(Cairo, December 23, 2006) – The Egyptian government must prosecute those responsible for beating and sexually assaulting a Cairo man in police custody last year, Human Rights Watch said today.
“The people responsible for this disgusting crime must face justice,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should send the message that it won’t tolerate torture by police or any other officials.”
According to al-Kabir, the officers circulated the video among other microbus drivers in his neighborhood and told him that they had done so to “break his spirit” and to send a message to the other drivers. The video passed from mobile phone to mobile phone until it reached the internet in early November 2006, where it sparked an outcry and intense press interest. Wa’il `Abd al-Fattah, a journalist with Cairo’s weekly al-Fajr, located al-Kabir and published his story in the December 11 issue of the newspaper.
Al-Kabir told Human Rights Watch that after the story ran, he received several calls to his mobile phone threatening him and his family if he did not remain silent. On December 12, Egypt’s semi-official newspaper al-Ahram ran a brief story correctly reporting that al-Kabir had disavowed the account published in al-Fajr and intended to sue the paper for publishing the story. The following day, however, at the encouragement of human rights lawyer Nasser Amin, al-Kabir explained to a public prosecutor that the threats had made him retract his story and that he wanted the prosecutor to protect him and to press charges. The prosecutor promptly opened an investigation.
“This case is just the tip of the iceberg,” Whitson said. “Torture is pervasive in Egyptian detention centers. Prosecuting the officers responsible for torture isn’t just a legal obligation, but should deter police from committing further abuse.”
Egypt is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention Against Torture). It is thus obliged to prohibit any form of torture and ill-treatment, and to take positive measures to protect victims by carrying out thorough, impartial and prompt investigations into allegations of torture and filing criminal charges where appropriate. Article 42 of Egypt’s constitution further provides that any person in detention “shall be treated in a manner concomitant with the preservation of his dignity” and that “no physical or moral (m`anawi) harm is to be inflicted upon him.”
Egypt’s Penal Code recognizes torture as a criminal offence, but the definition of the crime of torture falls short of the definition in Article 1 of the Convention Against Torture. For example, under article 126 of the Penal Code, torture is limited to physical abuse, occurs only when the victim is “an accused,” and only when torture is being used in order to coerce a confession. This narrow definition improperly excludes cases of mental or psychological abuse, and cases where the torture is committed against someone other than “an accused” or for purposes other than securing a confession. Opposition Egyptian lawmakers have repeatedly and unsuccessfully submitted draft legislation to the People’s Assembly that would change the law to fit international definitions of torture.
“Prosecuting those responsible for the crimes shown in this video would be a good first step,” Whitson said. “But it shouldn’t be the last. The Egyptian government must change the culture that’s made torture routine in Egyptian jails.”