This is the seventh annual report of the Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners (HRAAP) tackling the conditions of detainees and detention in Egypt during 2004. Immobility and deterioration are the key characteristic of conditions in detention centers in Egypt in 2004.
Concerning the legislative structure, there is not any tangible development to improve the laws that violate human rights as well as offering impunity to the perpetrators by one means or another. Egyptian laws still consider strikes and peaceful demonstration as punishable offenses. The right to issue newspapers and periodicals and to own audio and audiovisual media is still subject to severe restriction by the authorities. The Penal Code and its complementary laws still contain many provisions restricting the freedoms of expression, opinion and belief.
Despite continued criticism of the Penal Code, neither the government nor the parliament has shown any positive responses. As a result, torture in Egypt remains a crime lacking deterrent measures. The state of emergency continues to be imposed in Egypt, and has been renewed every three years since October 1981. By spring 2004 it will have been in force for 22 years, which means that an entire generation of Egyptians has grown up in a legal milieu of an exceptional nature that grants law enforcement officials very broad and unprecedented powers.
At the level of practice, as was the case in earlier years, the year 2004 witnessed the public prosecution’s abuse of the executive power of investigation during preventive detention. This abuse has transformed preventive detention, a measure initially designed to facilitate investigation, into a punishment that may last for six or more months. Moreover, courts now often prefer to resort to preventive detention, especially in high profile cases, rather than releasing defendants on bail or placing them under police surveillance. This results in additional stress on an already overcrowded prison system contributing to a continued reduction in care and provisions provided detained or imprisoned persons.
As in 2002, the deteriorated conditions in detention centers continue to persist. Ill-treatment, abuse, and torture remain a routine part of investigations in police stations. In addition, security services use their control to manipulate detainees’ living conditions as a means of discipline. If detainees sign “statements of remorse” (Tawba), their prison conditions improve with relation to food, visits and health care. If they refuse to sign, health care conditions deteriorate, detention cells become over-crowded, and they are prevented from communicating with relatives and are denied the right to education.
In spite of the decree of the Ministry of Interior to remove the barbwire barriers while visits, the decree was being carried out partially in some prisons, rather to a certain category of prisoners. In addition, in spite of the injustice of this action, the situation did not last long as some prisons did not implement this decree.
The number of people detained in Egypt under emergency law remains officially undeclared or unknown. An Assistant to the Ministry of the Interior, while attending a UN Committee Against Torture session in the fall of 2002, justified government attempts to keep these figures undisclosed by stating that he “can not figure out the number of detainees inside Egyptian prisons as dozens are arrested and others are released daily!”.
Despite the pledges the Egyptian government makes before the People's Assembly when applying for the renewal of the state of emergency when it states that it will not use the broad authorities the emergency law affords it except when necessary, 2004 witnessed the detention of thousands of citizens in complete contradiction with the government's pledges. In late October 2004, following the bombings in Taba, North Sinai, the interior ministry took security measures the country has not experienced in years, accompanied by broad detention campaigns that resulted in the arrest of over 3,000 Egyptian citizens from the cities of Arish and Rafah. Despite HRAAP's objection and condemnation of the terrorist attacks the Taba witnessed, these attacks can not be used to justify the detention of these large numbers of citizens in such a short time in what HRAAP believes to be the broadest detention campaign Egyptian citizens have been subjected to since over 15 years. Within this context, it is worth noting that citizens' detention continues and other citizens are detained despite affirmations from the interior ministry that it was able to specify the perpetrators of such attacks and arrest some of them. HRAAP also monitored the subjecting of many of the citizens of Rafah and Arish to the violent assaults and harassment of policemen because the citizens cooperated with a number of fact-finding missions sent by a number of human rights organizations in Egypt. HRAAP also monitored the bad conditions detainees are subjected to in various detention places in Egypt, including security camps, State Security police stations and headquarters, which are places outside the range of prosecution general's control and inspection. Moreover, detainees were kept in a number in prisons and police stations. HRAAP also monitored the fact that many detainees and their families were subjected to various forms of torture. Exceptional trials, be they military or supreme state security emergency trials, also fall within the context of the emergency law. The year 2004 witnessed the continuation of such trials despite strong local and international criticism because they do not provide any of the guarantees of a fair trial. Military prosecution interrogated 43 defendants in the case known as "Gund Allah" (God's Soldiers) registered under number 2/2003 military. The mentioned case dates back to early 2002 when the defendants were detained over separate periods and some time later interrogated after having been accused of joining a group against the law, the objective of which was to overthrow the regime. The same year witnessed the supreme state security emergency court ruling dated 25 March 2004 with relation to the case known as "Hizbul-Tahrir" where the court sentenced 26 defendants to imprisonment terms ranging between one and five years. This case dates back to 2002 when State Security Investigations arrested over 86 defendants claiming that they had joined the Hizbul-Tahrir organization. Sixty of the 86 defendants were released after investigations showed they did not join the organization, while the remaining 26 defendants –including three British citizens- were referred to trial after prosecution charged them all with promoting –by speech and writing- the objectives of a group established in contradiction with the law (Hizbul-Tahrir) where they called for annulling the provisions of the Constitution and the laws and preventing state institutions from performing their work, as well as promoting among themselves and to others the ideas of the mentioned group which accuse the regime of infidelity, allows rebellion against the regime and overthrowing it in preparation to establish the claimed Islamic Caliphate system. Defendants 1 to 14 with other defendants were also accused of possessing publications to promote the ideology of the organization, while defendants 2 and 7 possessed computers to propagate the extremist ideology of the organization through the internet and publications. The trial started on 20 October 2002. A number of the defendants demanded to be referred to forensic doctors after having accused state security officers of torturing them to forcibly obtain confessions. On the other hand, the court ordered the formation of two committees from al-Azhar and the university, the former to inspect the confiscated books to establish whether they contradicted with Islamic Sharia, and the latter to determine the extent to which the books were in contradiction with the provisions of the Constitution and the law. The 26 defendants received sentences in March 2004. Mid-May 2004 witnessed the arrest of 58 Muslim Brotherhood members and their referral to supreme state security prosecution for having joined an underground, illegal organization established in contradiction with the law, the possession of publications and bulletins and the attempt to revive the activities of the prohibited Muslim Brotherhood. The case was registered under State Security number 462/2004. This case witnessed many violations, the most significant of which was the death of one of the detainees, engineer Akram al-Zohairi, and the torture of many of the detainees. The year 2004 also witnessed an extremely serious incident, the kidnapping and assault of journalist Abdel-Halim Qandil. Mr. Qandil was then stripped naked in an incident that brings to mind practices we believed were outdated. Dr. Abdel-Halim Qandil, Executive Editor-in-Chief of Al-Arabi newspaper, was kidnapped in front of his residence and taken under gunpoint to the Ain Sokhna road where he was assaulted, stripped of his clothes and left on the road. This incident represents a relapse in the behavior towards the freedom of opinion. The incident also took place within a context that strongly implies it was related to his opinions as a journalist. Conditions in juvenile places of detention are still deteriorating in addition to the absence of care, thus rendering them places where people turn into criminals rather than places to rehabilitate juveniles and integrate them into society. Moreover, these places can not accommodate all juvenile delinquents and repel juveniles which resulted in higher rates of escape. A relevant study issued in 2004 stated that women's detention places suffer similar problems to other detention places, in addition to problems particular to the nature of these prisons, the most significant of which is the way children are detained with their mothers and the type of health and social care these young detainees are supposed to receive. With relation to coercive disappearance cases, 2004 did not witness any signs that old disappearance cases, some of which date back to 1989, will be resolved. HRAAP tried and continues to try to use all legal means to determine the fate of the disappeared persons, the latest of which was filing a number of lawsuits against the interior minister to oblige him to disclose the fate of those citizens. The same year witnessed new disappearance cases, including the disappearance of Brigadier General Ahmed Salem Obeid, deputy minister of defense and former minister of information who had been living in Egypt since 1994 following military confrontations between the two parts of Yemen before the unification. Brigadier General Obeid disappeared from his home in Mohandessin in mysterious circumstances. At the time some Egyptian, Yemeni and Saudi newspapers published news stating that the brother of the complainant had been delivered to the Yemeni authorities as one of the Yemeni opposition members in a deal to exchange Islamists wanted by the Egyptian government who had been living in Yemen. Thus, on 31 March 2004 HRAAP filed a lawsuit at the State Council against the Egyptian interior ministry and the Yemeni embassy in Cairo to find out the fate of Brigadier General Ahmed Salem Obeid. The lawsuit was registered under number 16247 of the judicial year 58, department of individual conflicts. In another incident that affirms the negligence of the state authorities in determining the fate of some disappeared Egyptians, the incident of the disappearance of 21 Egyptian citizens who disappeared in Libyan territory after having been deceived under the pretext that they will travel to work in Italy through Libya. This led HRAAP to file a lawsuit with the State Council against the Egyptian ministries of interior and exterior and the Libyan embassy in Cairo to determine the fate of these Egyptians. The mentioned lawsuit was registered under number 9718 of the judicial year 58. The administrative judiciary court considered the case and issued a ruling on 27 July 2004 which HRAAP considered a historical ruling in affirming the dignity of Egyptian citizens and the role of state authorities in protecting citizens inside Egypt or abroad. The court ruling obliged the interior ministry to take all diplomatic measures and legal procedures to solve the mystery of the disappearance of 21 Egyptians in Libya after they left Egyptian territory and entered Libyan territory through legal means. The court affirmed that respecting the state's law and power is conditional on the two closely linked matters of respecting the rights and freedoms of citizens in Egypt and protecting their rights abroad through diplomatic missions and consulates which should not restrict their roles to attending conferences. These missions and consulates should monitor the conditions of Egyptians and help them within the framework of the principles of international law and fulfilling their relevant constitutional duty. With relation to the phenomenon of mistreating Egyptians abroad and the absence of sufficient protection on part of Egyptian consulates and diplomatic missions, the court affirmed that it is time for Egyptians abroad to receive the same treatment that foreigners and Arabs receive in Egypt within the framework of its policy and the spirit of its people who receive both Arabs and foreigners with respect for human rights. The court added that the foreign ministry's negligence has been proven when it failed to follow up the investigations conducted about the disappearance of Egyptian citizens. The foreign ministry was content with a reply sent from Libya that did not disclose the real situation of the Egyptians who left their country in search of legitimate work opportunities. In a similar incident, the fate of 11 Egyptian citizens from the village of Mashtoul al-Souk, Sharkiya governorate, is still unknown after they left to Italy through Libya according to the famous scam scenario. In a positive incident, HRAAP received with extreme contentment the news of releasing the six Egyptians who were detained in Israel (Moustafa Abu-Deif Ali, Mohamed Yousry Mohamed, Mohamed Maher Sayed Ahmed, Emad Sayed Ahmed al-Tohami, Mahmoud Gamal Ezzat and Moutsfa Mahmoud Youssef). They had been arrested by Israeli occupation forces on 25 August 2004 and referred to trial after having been accused of planning to kidnap and assassinate Israeli military personnel, take over a tank and kill its crew, steal a bank then return to Egypt with the money to fund operations against Israel. Within this context, HRAAP praises the efforts exerted on part of all Egyptian authorities and levels, headed by the president to release these Egyptians. HRAAP believes this type of effort is necessary and basic on part of the government to uncover the fate of any of its citizens. This annual report – similar to other annual reports issued by human rights institutions- aims to shed the light on the reality of places of detention and detainees to motivate international and regional efforts to work with the Egyptian government –if it wishes- and pressure it –if it refuses- to improve the conditions of human rights and draw the attention to local public opinion and its makers –journalists and opinion leaders, for example, to give attention to detainees and places of detention. However, despite the importance of this issue, Egyptian newspapers and opinion leaders do not give attention to developing the conditions of detainees and detention places in Egypt. This report presents the point of view of HRAAP concerning the reality of the rights of detention and detainees in Egypt during 2004. The report's results were based on the information HRAAP's work group obtained and analyzed in the light of the laws and regulations directly or indirectly governing detention and detainees in Egypt. HRAAP hopes this report help draw the attention to the important truth that sustainable development is based on people and that without respecting people and their dignity and guaranteeing their rights –particularly when in detention- talk about any sort of development is futile.
Human Rights Association for the Assistance of prisoners