Increasingly, those held under security custody have found ways to publish the torture they are subject to in the opaque realm of Egypt’s detention centres. Media reports, the Ministry of Interior when pushed, NGOs and lawyers have reported a series of deaths in police custody as a result of torture. Thus, NGOs have increasingly acted as human rights advocates to challenge the Egyptian state’s narrative regarding its detention practices.
However, torture cases rarely appear before court. Human rights lawyers have complained of a lack of serious investigation into claims of torture in detention centres. Daily News Egypt spoke to human rights lawyer Mohamed Fathi, who discussed the obstacles lawyers face when pursuing prosecution instances of torture carried out by security personnel.
“It is usually not difficult to file an official report or complaint against policemen,” Fathi said. “But the challenge is to get them to face trial because usually the victim does not know who tortured them and that makes the suspect unknown.”
Fathi placed responsibility for the delay in investigations on the general prosecution authorities, claiming that delays function as obstacles to political justice.
“For instance, I filed nearly 25 reports of torture claims since February 2015,” he said. “All of them were either closed or simply ‘put in a drawer’. Not having a specific suspect is one excuse for them but they have means in which they can actually find the suspect and bring them to justice”.
Fathi supported his argument citing the case of lawyer Kareem Hamdy, which he describes as proof that perpetuators can be held accountable for acts of torture.
Hamdy was reported dead in February 2015 as a result of being subject to severe torture in Matariya Police Station. His case sparked public controversy and anger from the Lawyers Syndicate, which formed an organised movement to pressure state prosecutors to continue investigating until the perpetuators were found.
With the testimony of officers from Matariya police station, the prosecution’s inspection of the crime scene, and reports of the Forensic Medicine Authority, It was shown that two National Security Apparatus officers tortured Hamdy in the course of interrogation. Evidence showed he was blindfolded and his hands were bound. The victim was heard screaming and begging for the “assaults” to stop. The autopsy showed that he died the next morning from injuries sustained during interrogation.
“Remember that Hamdy died inside the Matariya police station and yet they discovered that, in fact, it was two National Security officers who were there and committed the crime. It would have been easy to hold only the police station’s officers accountable”, Fathi argued.
Elaborating on the complexity of establishing grounds for a charge of torture, Fathi said that unless the prosecutor office’s investigations are careful “it is otherwise it nearly impossible to know, with investigation evidence.”
He pointed to the general complicity of the entire police force who are implicated by knowledge of the crime. “As so more perpetuators should be held accountable of the crime,” he said, referring to Hamdy’s case. “All police station officers who were there are responsible for his death”.
Such details are hard to be collected to complete the pieces of the crime, which further highlights a gap in the law that adds to the complications, he said. This comes amid aggressive and threatening defensive measures by the Interior Ministry officials, to counter torture claims, and to pursue human rights’ workers.
“Despite that torture is mentioned by law, there is no clear definition of what constitutes the crime, who is responsible for it, and how to properly file a lawsuit, all of which makes it impossible to have the full material and moral elements of the crime,” Fathi said.
Article 52 of the constitution stipulates that torture in all forms and types is a crime that does not have a statute of limitations.
Yet according to Fathi, “suing members of the state security apparatus is constrained by a prosecution warrant”, which makes the victim unable to move forward with the case unless there is real will from the prosecution authorities to bring the perpetuators to justice.