Human Rights Watch: Torture a widespread practice under Sisi

Torture is standardized practice under president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, according to a report issued by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday morning. The investigation is based on interviews with people who were subjected to torture between 2014 and 2016.

In a statement also issued on Wednesday, HRW writes that the 63-page report “documents how security forces, particularly officers of the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency, use torture to force suspects to confess or divulge information, or to punish them.” It notes that the practice has become more widespread since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

“President al-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 Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. “Impunity for the systematic use of torture has left citizens with no hope for justice.”

The report describes torture in Egypt as routine, claiming that its widespread use by security forces may constitute a crime against humanity. According to HRW, torture techniques included beatings, electrocution, stress positions and sometimes rape.

It adds that security forces use torture to withdraw confessions or information from detainees, or as a form of punishment. HRW interviewed 19 former detainees who were tortured between 2014 and 2016, and the family of one detainee who was tortured during the same period. They also consulted with several lawyers and human rights defenders. According to the interviewees, torture sessions usually begin with electric shocks and slapping, while the detainee is blindfolded, handcuffed and stripped naked.

If detainees refuse to cooperate, the strength and duration of the electric shocks increase, and hot water is thrown on them if they lose consciousness. Interviewees told HRW that officers target sensitive areas including genitals, testicles and the head.

These testimonies line up with earlier reports of torture in Egypt, some of which date back to 1992.

The public prosecutor’s office often ignores allegations of torture, according to HRW. One interviewee, 29-year-old Khaled, told the organization that when he informed the prosecutor that a false confession was extracted from him after six days of torture, the prosecutor told him to repeat the confession or he would be tortured again.

According to the report,  between 2013 and 2016 prosecutors officially investigated approximately 40 torture cases out of the hundreds submitted by detainees. Only six of these cases, one of which involved a National Security Officer, saw guilty verdicts, and all have been appealed.

Torture is often practised in cases of forced disappearances, according to the Wednesday investigation. HRW previously issued a report in 2015 documenting dozens of cases of forced disappearances in 2014.

Article 52 of the Constitution states that torture “in all its forms is a crime with no statute of limitation.”

The report urges Sisi to appoint a special public prosecutor to investigate cases of detainees tortured at the hands of security forces, and publish a review of the findings.

HRW also calls on the UN Committee Against Torture to open an investigation into the accusations, claiming that UN member states should investigate and prosecute Egyptian officials accused of committing, ordering, or assisting torture.

Last March, Egyptian authorities referred two judges to a disciplinary committee for working on a draft legislation on the use of torture in prisons, accusing them of “interfering with the work of the legislative authority by working on draft laws and engaging in political work.”

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