Allegations of Egypt’s endemic and systematic torture of political prisoners constitute a “crime against humanity,” according to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday.
In a 63-page report, the international NGO said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government has allowed widespread arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance and abuse of detainees, in what they term “an assembly line of torture”.
Middle East and North African Communications Director for HRW Ahmed Benchemsi, told MEMO that the report debunks Egypt’s claims that cases of torture are isolated.
“Torture has been a recurrent and systematic practice since the July 2013 coup. It is practiced on all kinds of dissidents, to force them to confess or to punish them. It is now so endemic, and the Egyptian government seems so unwilling to take responsibility, that we are asking foreign nations to use universal jurisdiction to prosecute Egyptian officials suspected of involvement in torture acts.”
The report also interviewed 19 former detainees who detailed their experiences of abuse; one of whom described the “chicken” position prisoners were often kept in, where a bar was placed behind the suspects’ knees, and their arms wrapped around from the other side, with their hands tied above their shins, such that suspects resembled “a chicken on a rotisserie spit”.
Other detainees reported beatings, rape, genital electrocutions and fingernail extractions as being used to extract forced confessions, as security officials act with near total impunity.
Since the 2013 military coup, which ousted democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt has seen an immense crackdown on thousands suspected of being against Al-Sisi, particularly members of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood party.
Mohamed Soudan, Foreign Affairs Secretary of the Brotherhood, told MEMO that the report did not cover the extent of the epidemic.
“We [Egypt] have more than 104 detention centres and prisons, and the majority are non-official prisons. Security forces’ headquarters or departments in Egypt are also centres for torturing the opposition of Al-Sisi’s regime; and this is more than maybe 200 centres. Everywhere in Egypt there are more than three or four centres or headquarters that belong to the security forces in every town, in every province … and no one can touch them; no one can approach them, even those who work for the human rights organisations or NGOs.”
The report comes just two weeks after the US revealed that they would be cutting annual aid to Egypt due to their poor human rights record. Soudan doubted that such a strategy would work in forcing Egypt to reconsider their treatment of detainees, and questioned the sincerity of the Trump administration’s actions, given that torture allegations have been known about for years.
“This is only camouflage for the international community, to show them that the US is against the military coup, but if you go to the truth, they [the US] supported them and keep supporting them. Not only the US but unfortunately, the majority of the international community… they see him [Al-Sisi] as the legitimate president of Egypt.”
“Al-Sisi will keep torturing and keep killing Egyptians who are against the coup, who are in opposition to him… the prisons in Egypt not only include the Muslim Brotherhood, but anyone against Al-Sisi. This is the reality,” he emphasised.
HRW has called on the UN and the Egyptian government to prosecute security officers and officials accused of committing torture. Soudan says that these calls will be ignored by Al-Sisi’s regime and the international community.
“This is a group of thugs who rule Egypt now; they do not care about human rights. They [the Egyptian government] get support from the Gulf countries, they get support from the EU; these states even receive him [Al-Sisi] as a president. They still make transactions with him; they still provide him with the weapons to kill people.”
“We need these reports; it’s very important because in the near future we will need them in the international courts. There are a lot of cases against Al-Sisi… but at this moment, unfortunately, I am not expecting any success from international governments or the international community,” he added.
“Al-Sisi has turned Egypt into a big prison, all of it; it’s not only the people inside,” he concluded.