11 January 2009
“Towards establishing a patriotic strategy for combating torture in police stations” was the theme title of a recent workshop organised by the United Group for Consultations, in cooperation with the Federal Administration for Exterior Affairs affiliated to the Swiss Embassy.
Through the workshop, lawyers and jurists called for harsher penalties against the crime of torture and inhumanity in police stations and detention units. They demanded modification of criminal procedure laws to enable claimants to motivate criminal lawsuits directly against the perpetrators of torture. They asked for the law to be changed so as to determine deadlines for completing investigations of the general prosecution, or relevant reports—with no harm to the investigation itself.
The participants asked the general-prosecution to make regular inspections of places of detention and police stations, and to use its complete authority and power to question law breakers and take strict action against them accordingly. The prosecution should also consider methods of torture used in prisons as contravention of career ethics.
Nigad al-Boraie, manager of the United Group for Consultations, began by saying that, two years ago, the group issued a study entitled “Crime and Punishment”, which tackled the legal constitution involved in torture and the prosecution’s attitude towards it. The study verified that there were serious defects in the legal system regarding torture, since Egyptian law does not include a precise definition of torture. Today, these legal aspects have not changed. This necessitated the extended workshop to bring out recommendations for prompt action.
Lawyer Ahmed Abdel-Hafiz, manager of the Arab centre for lawyers, said that according to recent reports by civil society organisations, the use of torture had increased over the last few years and was no longer restricted to prisoners or political detainees but extended to include ordinary citizens. It even spread out to public places such as the street and metro stations, and comprised all ages—children, young people and elderly people.
Contact with the outside world
Mr Abdel-Hafiz stressed that
Ahmed Seif al-Islam, head of the Hisham Mubarak Centre for Law, emphasised the importance of allowing contact with detained people who are often isolated from the world, unable to call on anyone for help. Since torture leaves physical injuries, Mr Seif al-Islam also demanded that all detainees should be placed under medical supervision separate from the Interior Ministry and affiliated to the Health Ministry.
The coverage of torture issues in the Egyptian press is hampered by lack of information. Hanaa’ Farouq, media professor at
Dr Farouq called for more public awareness of human rights, urging people to take an active stance against torture. She said it was important to hold training and educational courses for media workers in the human rights field.
As for the role played by Parliament in confronting the crime of torture, lawyer Ramy Hassan said that independent MPs had played a remarkable role in rooting out torture and inhumanity on the political, legislative, and monitoring levels. In the period between December 2005 and August 2008, MPs raised the question of torture 25 times in Parliament, through interpellations and queries presented to the government. Among the topics raised were the numbers of detainees and the reasons for detention; human-rights attitudes to torture and inhumanity in prisons; putting detainees in prison without adequate legal backing; turning police stations into places of torture; breaching human dignity; and insulting human rights.