Torture in Egypt has risen 16 per cent in three months, the Geneva-based Committee for Justice (CFJ) revealed on International Day in Support for Victims of Torture.
Human rights campaigners have long been documenting Egypt’s increasing disregard for human rights and the rule of law. Since the 2013 coup the use of torture has increased at an alarming rate and practices such as sexual violence against children are increasing.
There are some 60,000 political prisoners in the country. Human rights activists are persecuted by the government and their organisations subject to severe limitations. In May, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi passed the NGO law which will severely restrict the operational capacity of some 47,000 non-governmental organisations.
Vicky Maurer, Egypt project manager and legal officer at CPJ, tells MEMO that torture increased considerably between March and May this year:
Torture incidents represented six per cent of the violations in detention centres in the report we published for March and April, with a considerable increase for the month of May. Indeed, it became the second most common violation in detention, reaching 22 per cent.
Maurer, who is responsible for the CPJ’s Egypt watch project, monitors both physical and psychological forms of torture including beatings, solitary confinement, threats against family members or the force feeding of prisoners who are on hunger strike.
But the level and type of abuse taking place in Egypt limits international human rights organisations who can only work with governments and civil society organisations who show some sort of political will for reform. Egypt is not one of these.
As Maurer says, “it is impossible in practice” to have prevention safeguards respected in Egypt. Detainees are not granted the right to a fair trial, do not have access to a lawyer and have often been tortured in order to extract a confession. Civilians are brought before military jurisdictions.
The biggest problem, says Maurer, is medical negligence as detainees often don’t have access to a doctor or proper treatment.
Then there is the struggle of family members who are intimidated into silence:
Most families already know what their relatives in detention go through but most of the time they are too afraid to speak up. Having them talk to us is a struggle, or when they write official complaints, they never get any answer.
These abuses have only got worse since Al-Sisi declared a state of emergency in Egypt following the Palm Sunday bombings on Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta. Critics widely saw the suspension of constitutional powers as the president’s way of expanding his authoritarian crackdown against the opposition.