Torture in Sisi's Egypt may be 'crime against humanity'

Torture in Sisi's Egypt could amount to 'crime against humanity'
3 min read
06 September, 2017
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has given a "green light" to use systematic torture against detainees, allowing total impunity for actions which may amount to crimes against humanity.
Egypt has detained more than 60,000 people since Morsi was overthrown. [Getty]
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has given a "green light" to use systematic torture against detainees, allowing total impunity for actions which may amount to crimes against humanity.

The allegations were made in a 63-page report released on Wednesday by Human Rights Watch, with the group saying Sisi is pursuing stability "at any cost", including the widespread use of torture and mass imprisonment.

Sisi "has effectively given police and National Security officers a green light to use torture whenever they please," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at the New York-based group.

"Impunity for the systematic use of torture has left citizens with no hope for justice."

Most detainees in Egypt are alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which rose to power after the 2011 uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak but has been the target of a brutal crackdown since the military overthrew democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Egypt has detained more than 60,000 people in the two years after Morsi was overthrown while hundreds have been forcibly disappeared and hundreds more have been received death sentences as part of mass trials.

'Assembly line of abuse'

Human rights watch documented abuses ranging from rape to electrocution based on interviews with 19 Egyptians detained as far back as 2013.

It said torture sessions are aimed at extracting confessions, collecting information or simply as punishment.

Prosecutors, who are tasked with probing violations, create an "environment of almost total impunity" by either ignoring complaints of torture or threatening abuse themselves.

Identical torture methods were used in detention facilities across the country in what HRW said was an "assembly line of serious abuse".

After a "welcoming party" of beatings, detainees are stripped naked, blindfolded and subjected to electrical shocks and various stress positions.

In one position, known as the "grill," detainees are hung from a spit-like wooden pole placed atop two chairs.

Officers often move detainees from one room to the other, where different methods of torture are used, such as pulling out nails or electrocuting a detainee while dousing him with water, often until he passes out.

Some detainees said they were placed inside a room dubbed the "fridge" and kept in extremely cold temperatures while wearing nothing but underwear.

'All my nerves were shaking'

HRW researchers found five cases in which officers used torture to force detainees to read pre-written confessions, which were filmed and then posted on social media or shown on state TV.

"I gave them the answers they wanted to hear because the electrocution was too much for me to bear" another detainee said.

"All my nerves were shaking. I wasn't in control of them," Human Rights Watch quoted another detainee as saying, after an intense torture session that included shocking his genitals with electrical wires.

Impunity for widespread torture was one of the main grievances behind the popular revolution that overthrew Mubarak, with HRW warning that "allowing the security services to commit this heinous crime across the country invites another cycle of unrest."

The Egyptian Interior Ministry in the past has denied allegations of systemic torture, blaming any abuses on individuals and saying they are held accountable.

Several officers have been tried and convicted of torture, while others have been acquitted.

Sisi's regime has also shut down hundreds of websites operated by independent journalists and rights groups, while a controversial NGO law passed this year effectively eradicates civil society.

US President Donald Trump hailed Sisi as an ally against terrorism, but last month cut or delayed nearly $300 million in military and economic aid which is part of an estimated $1.3 billion a year given to Egypt since it signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1979.