State-owned newspaper Al-Ahram, renowned for its pro-government stance, released a report Saturday slamming police abuses of power and negligence. The report follows in the footsteps of a series of similar pieces in the usually timid Egyptian press.
The provocatively-worded article, titled “Those who don’t die of torture, die of suffocation”, focuses primarily on poor treatment, overcrowding and filthy conditions inside Old Cairo police station where two detainees died earlier this month.
“Whenever an incident occurs, another happens straight away. Things are bleak in our eyes. Human life has become very cheap, especially inside police stations,” the article reads.
It refers to the Prosecutor General’s large-scale review of all police stations in Cairo and Giza, initiated after a string of deaths made media headlines that point at Ministry of Interior responsibility.
Al-Ahram reports that the investigation team “witnessed the horrible state of the detention rooms inside the police stations… they have become garbage dumps, covered in insects… where death lingers continuously”.
The article is unexpected from Al-Ahram, which is usually known for uncritical support for the government and security forces. However, it is an interesting development as it comes alongside a series of similar reports in recent weeks from the usually timid and occasionally censored Arabic-language Egyptian press.
Al-Ahram claims that at Old Cairo station, there is a “complete disregard for human life and indifference to the treatment of detainees”. The prosecution documented rooms fit for 100 holding 380, including old people and those with infectious diseases, with people taking turns to sleep because of the overcrowding.
It suggests that the station has become a “house of reptiles” and a “garbage dump”, such is the degree of rats, insects and rubbish within the rooms. The bathrooms and sewage systems are all broken. In a provocatively sarcastic tone, the article suggests the station deserves a Noble Prize for the extent of its failings.
Moreover, it reports there are 34 detainees that have received final verdicts of prison sentences. They are, however, kept in the police station, because it is claimed there are not enough officers to transfer the individuals to prison.
“We would like to ask officials in the Ministry of Interior when will the price of a citizen’s life become valuable and remind them that defendants are innocent until proven guilty,” the article reads.
The piece continues that it was a “mercy” that the two defendants died this month during their detention in the station. According to investigations by the prosecution, the men succumbed to “circulatory failure” by overcrowding.
An investigation team from Qasr El-Aini medical school, who investigated Old Cairo police station, documented the spread of infectious diseases, due to overcrowding and poor ventilation. The team warned that the station posed the risk of becoming a “group cemetery”.
Other police stations investigated by the Prosecutor General are known to include Ain Shams, El-Marg, Shubra El-Kheima, and Matariya. Matariya police station is controversially known in the political scene as the “slaughter house”, in reference to the numerous cases of torture against detainees who are pending investigations.
Earlier in April, privately-owned but pro-government, Al-Dostour newspaper hit out against the government after one of its journalists was arrested on criminal charges of drugs and weapons possession, theft, forgery and bribery. The newspaper maintains the journalist is innocent, and suggests he is being targeted for reports that have documented police violations against civilians.
Also this month, the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, which is private but pro-government, ran a large special on the violations of police. The seven-page file ignited a dispute with the Interior Ministry, after accusing the police of responsibility for deaths and abuses on their watch. The ministry responded by referring four reporters and the editor-in-chief to interrogation by State Security, Egypt’s supreme internal security authority that usually investigates terrorism and espionage. The defendants claim they have not been informed of what charges they are allegedly guilty of.
The Al-Masry Al-Youm report covered: the notorious killing of the leftist activist Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh in a protest; the killing of a conscript by his officer in Sinai; the shooting of a citizen by a police officer in a hospital; the alleged rape of a girl by two policemen; and the torture of lawyer Kareem Hamdy in the Matariya police station.