Egypt: 'Uniforms have changed, but abuse continues' - new report calls for major abuse investigation

Members of the security forces who have brutally repressed Egyptians for decades must be held to account, Amnesty International said today (20 April), as it released a major new report into the use of emergency powers under former President Hosni Mubarak.

In Time for Justice: Egypt's Corrosive System of Detention , Amnesty calls for the immediate establishment of an independent inquiry into human rights abuses committed by Egypt’s much-feared State Security Investigations Service (SSI).

Amnesty said it was prepared to make its archive of human rights reports available to the Egyptian authorities to assist with an investigation. On 15 March, following mass protests, the Interior Ministry announced that the SSI had been abolished and that a new national security body would be established. But no details have been given over what will happen to SSI officers, whether any will be subject to investigation or whether any vetting system was put in place for their integration in the police force.

Amnesty is also calling for Egypt’s 30-year-old state of emergency to be ended immediately and for all Emergency Law provisions to be repealed.

Following President Mubarak’s fall a new Interior Minister announced on 12 March that 1,659 administrative detainees had been released since early February. However even now the Egyptian authorities have not disclosed how many people are held in administrative detention. National and international human rights organisations estimate the number in the last years of Mubarak's rule at 6,000-10,000.

In recent weeks Amnesty has documented the continuing use of torture, arbitrary detention, trials of civilians before military courts and repression of freedom of expression by authorities. After the army violently cleared Tahrir Square of demonstrators on 9 March, Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights protesters told Amnesty that they were beaten, subjected to electric shocks, strip-searched then forced to submit to “virginity checks” and threatened with prostitution charges.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The uniforms have changed but we’ve seen the same patterns of abuse continue.

“This is a moment for fundamental change. Accountability for past crimes is essential to send out a clear message that violations will no longer to be tolerated.

“The authorities cannot expect to simply sweep the past under the carpet without addressing the needs of the victims of years of ruthless repression. They have an obligation to tell their victims why they were victimised and who was responsible for their ordeal. Egyptians must see justice done for the human rights abuses of the past.”

Amnesty’s report shows how SSI officers used administrative detention to hold people who were critical of the Egyptian authorities, human rights activists and criminal suspects for years without intent to prosecute them in a criminal trial.

In hundreds of cases examined by Amnesty, detainees were never informed of the reason for their arrest, many were not allowed to contact the outside world or have legal assistance. Torture of detainees was routine, including electric shocks, beatings, suspension, whipping and sleep deprivation.

Mohamed Abu Essaoud Ismail: 52, was one of many people held for up to 20 years. He was arrested in 1991 for alleged membership of Gamaa al-Islamiya, at that time an armed Islamist group. His family knew nothing of what had happened to him until 1998. He was finally released on 19 February after the fall of President Mubarak. He had been tortured and denied adequate medical care for long-term health problems.

Hishab Diab: 50, an Egyptian-Dutch film-maker, spent seven years in administration detention from 2004-11. In 2001 he was tried and jailed for three years for alleged involvement with an armed Islamist group. He was due for release in 2004 but was instead served with several administrative detention orders, repeatedly moved and allegedly put into solitary confinement and tortured. He was eventually released on 6 February 2011.

Musaad Abu Fagr: a novelist and human rights activist in Sinai, was released in July 2010 after two and a half years in administrative detention despite 21 court orders for his release.

In May 2010 the Egyptian authorities said administrative detention would only be used to prevent terrorism or drug-related crime and limited the application of the Emergency Law accordingly. In fact they have persistently used emergency powers to stifle freedom of expression and repress peaceful political opposition.

Amnesty’s report calls for victims of human rights violations to receive reparations, including financial compensation and guarantees that there will be fundamental reform.

Note to editors
The Emergency Law gives security forces sweeping powers, suspends some constitutional rights, allows the creation of exceptional courts, circumscribes oppositional political activity, restricts demonstrations, hems in civil society organisations, and legalises censorship. Administrative detention is governed by Article 3(1), which gives the President or his deputies the power to arrest and detain any person the authorities deem to be “dangerous to public security and order”.

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