Thousands of people protested the death and torture of Afify Hosny at his funeral in Ismailia on Saturday.
Hosny was reportedly tortured to death by an officer at a police station in Ismailia after he was arrested from a pharmacy several days ago, the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported.
A video of the officer violently arresting Hosny from the pharmacy owned by his wife was widely shared on social media after his arrest and death. Hosny’s wife, Reem Ahmed, told the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper that she submitted the video to the prosecutor general.
Attendees at Hosny’s funeral called for justice and accountability and for the arrest of the officer.
Hosny’s death comes shortly after the death of Luxor citizen Talat Shabeeb, who died while in police custody. According to his friends and family, Shabeeb was tortured to death after his arrest from a café.
Shabeeb’s death sparked widespread protests in Luxor and 24 civilians were arrested and released following the dispersal of a protest in front of the Awamiya police station where Shabeeb died. A video of his body at the morgue with severe bruising around the neck was widely circulated on social media.
On Twitter the hashtag, “The Interior are rabid dogs,” was trending on Sunday, with users sharing stories of torture and police violence.
One user tweeted two pictures of police officers beating and arresting unarmed civilians with the message, “The injustice of the dogs, these pigs are lifted up by the hands of thugs. The best day in your life will be when a coup comes.”
Another user tweeted, “A police officer tortured someone until he died in Luxor, before that in Port Said and Sohag people were also tortured to death and every time [the police] were found innocent.”
Well-known lawyer Hani Sarie-Eldin also tweeted against the torture of prisoners, specifically referring to Hosny’s case. “The number of cases where civilians are tortured in police stations is growing. This is a disturbing phenomenon and must be seriously investigated #Our_Right_In_Our_Country,” he wrote.
The National Council for Human Rights deemed the recent torture cases a “serious violation of one of the most important and sacred rights, which is the right to live,” saying these incidents sound alarm bells that torture is resurfacing.
In a statement on Sunday, the NCHR highlighted the need to guarantee human rights under the law, adding that it is in the process of calling a meeting to hold those responsible accountable, including the ministries of interior and justice, as well as the general prosecution and forensics authority.
Mainstream television channels, which have seldom aired criticism of state institutions, also discussed the rising trend in police brutality.
Iman Ezz Eddin, the host of “Key of Life” on the Al-Hayah channel, said she was shocked by the recent number of human rights abuses. “In this week alone, there have been four instances of actions against civilians in Luxor, Ismailia, 6th of October City and Qalyubiya that resulted in people’s deaths,” she said.
On Saturday, Youssef al-Hosseiny, the ONtv host who has previously shied away from highlighting flaws and violations by the authorities, dedicated part of his show to incidents of police violence. He featured the spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, Abu Bakr Abdel Kareem, who stated that what happened to Hosny at the police station was an isolated incident. He asked people not to judge the entire ministry based on eight instances of torture, adding that the ministry is investigating all allegations of abuse.
On Sunday afternoon, the Interior Ministry posted a statement on its official Facebook page, stating there is no tolerance for “individual infringements” by some police officers, which “do not reflect the nature of patriotic police work.”
The statement asserted that the police respect the rule of law, human dignity and democratic values according to the constitution. “We will not allow a few individual acts to tarnish the history of police work and sacrifices by heroic men in fighting terrorism,” it read.
The ministry said it would maintain the people’s trust and that all reported cases would be investigated, with the results announced in a transparent manner, according to the law and judicial decisions, with no exceptions.
But such incidents are not exceptional, according to rights advocates and organizations who deem torture a systematic police practice.
Well-known activist Sanaa Seif wrote on her Facebook page that the torture of detainees like Hosny is common in police stations and prisons. She said there was a “torture party” every night she was detained at Heliopolis police station. Seif said she could hear the screams of people being tortured every night after sunset and that it became almost normal.
Seif was arrested during a peaceful protest calling for the release of political detainees in June 2014. She was later sentenced to two years in prison in October 2014, but was pardoned and released by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, along with 99 other prisoners in September 2015.
Public discontent over reports of police torture has been growing, with anger transcending the usual circles of activists and human rights advocates, according to Dina al-Khawaga, professor of political science at Cairo University.
“It started in places like Matareya, Sinai and is now growing in Ismailia and Luxor,” Khawaga says, adding that the authorities are trying to placate the public.
The prosecutor ordered the immediate arrest of the policeman accused of killing the Ismailia doctor, while the partisan Al-Wafd newspaper claimed Interior Ministry officials “began an urgent trial for everyone involved in the [Luxor] incident.”
Ahmed Ragab, a journalist for Al-Masry Al-Youm, says the media is starting to discuss such incidents more. “Media influence each other, and if one outlet starts pushing the limits, others may follow suit,” he suggests, asserting that the current minister of interior doesn’t have the resources of his predecessors to limit the coverage of such cases.
Khawaga suggests, “They don’t care about activists protests, but once the average citizen takes to the streets, they take it seriously and make accommodating measures.”