Dozens of civilians have been subjected to enforced disappearance and held for months in secret detention at an Egyptian military camp, where they are subjected to torture and other ill-treatment to make them confess to crimes, according to shocking new evidence gathered by Amnesty International.
Egyptian lawyers and activists have a list of at least 30 civilians who are reportedly being held in secret at Al Azouly prison inside Al Galaa Military Camp in Ismailia, 130km north-east of Cairo. Former detainees there have told Amnesty International that many more – possibly up to 400 – could be held in the three-storey prison block. The detainees have not been charged or referred to prosecutors or courts, and have had no access to their lawyers or families.
“These are practices associated with the darkest hours of military and Mubarak’s rule. Egypt’s military cannot run roughshod over detainees’ rights like this,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty international.
The authorities must immediately inform the families and lawyers of all those being held in secret at Al Galaa Military Camp or elsewhere. Anyone who has been forcibly disappeared must immediately be granted access to doctors, lawyers and their families.
They must be protected from further torture or other ill-treatment, and released, unless they are promptly charged with a recognizable criminal offence before being brought before a judge for a fair trial.
“Reports of torture in Egypt have been steadily emerging. Yet, what’s happening inside the prison is taken straight from a torturer’s textbook and shows that behind the authorities’ rhetoric of the road map to democracy and upcoming elections lies ruthless repression,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui.
There must be full, impartial and independent investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, with all those responsible brought to justice.
Amnesty International met with recently released detainees from Al Azouly prison. They gave harrowing accounts of torture, including the use of electric shocks, burns and other ill-treatment during interrogations at the military camp.
Lawyers and activists have told Amnesty International that enforced disappearances have been on the rise in Egypt since November 2013. It is expected that the detainees being held in secret will be brought before state security prosecutors after they have “confessed” under torture. In some cases, it appears that individuals have been secretly detained for months, during which time they were tortured to extract “confessions”.
Lawyers working on state security cases, including those involving prisoners at Al Azouly, described a systematic pattern where people are abducted from streets or their homes and sent to Al Azouly, where they have no access to lawyers or their families and the authorities refuse to acknowledge that they were in custody.
The defendants are coerced to “confess” to a crime or implicate others. Some of the detainees agree to confess once referred to the state security prosecutor, to get out of the prison and stop the torture. Lawyers told Amnesty International that they are never allowed to attend the first investigation and they are not informed about the date or time of the investigation.
“Torture is absolutely prohibited under all circumstances and is a crime under international law. Prosecutors, courts and other Egyptian authorities must never use ‘confessions’ or statements extracted through torture or other ill-treatment in any proceedings. Imprisonment on such a basis constitutes arbitrary detention,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui.
One prisoner recently released from Al Azouly military prison:
“The military arrested me in January …and took me on the same day to Al Azouly prison after they beat me in a military camp in my town for four hours. I was held in Al Azouly prison for 76 days without seeing a judge or a prosecutor, I was not even allowed to talk to my family. They put me on the third floor of the prison in solitary confinement. The authorities there interrogated me six times. They took off my clothes and gave me electric shocks all over my body during the investigations, including on my testicles, and beat me with batons and military shoes. They handcuffed me from behind and hung me on a door for 30 minutes. They always blindfolded me during the investigations. In one interrogation they burned my beard with a lighter. The investigations were held in another building inside the camp…the soldiers call it S1 and S8 buildings [which are military intelligence buildings]. I could not see the investigators because I was blindfolded in all investigations and handcuffed from behind. They wanted to know information about protests and demonstrations, they asked about the active members in the university. They wanted to know who funds protests, who holds weapons and who buys them. They also asked me about my affiliation and whether I belong to the Muslim Brotherhood…
“After 25 days I was transferred to another cell with another 23 prisoners. Most of the persons in this cell were from Sinai. One of the prisoners had burns on his body…he mentioned that they put out cigarettes on his body. We were allowed out of the cell once a day to the bathroom before sunrise, and for five minutes for all the 23 persons in the cell. The food was very poor. I was then released without a prosecutor’s order or investigations …they took me from prison and put me outside gate 2 of the military camp.”
Another prisoner recently released from Al Azouly:
“I was arrested from my home by security forces dressed in civilian clothing in February. I was beaten upon arrest and then was taken to Al Azouly prison. They questioned me 13 times. They blindfolded me, handcuffed me from behind and took off my clothes…then they gave me electric shocks all over the body including in my testicles. I was not allowed to call my family…I gave their number to a cellmate who was released and informed them about my location. A man with us in the cell called Haj Shetewy, he is from north Sinai…was suffering from torture that he faced upon arrest by 101 Military Brigade in Arish. They inserted a hot steel rod in his anus…he was not able to go to the bathroom for nine days. They did not treat him….he died in cell number 11 on the second floor. After the investigations they released me in May.”
Amr Rabee is an engineering student at Cairo University who disappeared after he was arrested from Ramsis Street in the capital on 11 March by security officials dressed in civilian clothing. His family did not know his whereabouts. They asked in police stations, prosecutors’ offices, National Security and filed a report with the Public Prosecutor’s Office on 15 March about his disappearance. The authorities denied holding him.
Amr Rabee’s family later received a phone call in April from a released prisoner who told them that Amr was being held in Al Azouly military prison. According to the released prisoner, Amr Rabee cannot move his left arm due to a torture-related injury. On 17 May, more than two months after his disappearance, Amr Rabee was brought before the East Cairo Prosecutor’s Office. A lawyer who was present at the time called the student’s family, who rushed to the Prosecutor’s Office. They arrived to learn that a detention order had been filed and that, according to the official case file, Amr was arrested from his home in Al Haram on 17 May – more than two months after his actual arrest. The family was able to see him for five minutes in the prosecutor’s office and he mentioned that he was held in Al Azouly military prison and then Al Aqrab prison in Tora. He has a dislocated shoulder.
A woman in a town 250 km from Cairo told Amnesty International that her husband was arrested when the security forces dressed in civilian clothing and police uniforms raided their home in the middle of the night in January 2014. Before he was taken away, they gave him electric shocks in front of her. Despite repeated efforts to find his whereabouts, she was finally able to see him in Al Aqrab prison in May 2014. He bore signs of torture, including bruises and cuts in his hands and arms and burn marks on his arms. He also had a dislocated shoulder. He told her that they wanted him to confess to involvement in an explosion that led to the killing of soldiers.
Al Azouly prison is inside the headquarters of the Second Field Army Command. The camp includes a military court, the prison and Military Intelligence offices. The prison has three storeys: the first floor has military detainees facing trial; the second floor has a mix of civilians facing military trials and individuals who are “under investigation” but who have not been referred to a prosecutor or court; the third floor has more individuals who are “under investigation”.
Amnesty International was not able to determine exactly how many people are being held in Al Azouly prison. Released prisoners say that up to 200 people can be detained on each floor, and estimate that there are 200 to 400 prisoners in total.
Released prisoners said that the torture method used against individual detainees depends on the suspect’s profile. Those accused of killing soldiers or police are given electric shocks, hung on doors, burned, and sometimes whipped. The interrogations are held in a building 10 minutes away from the prison. Detainees are blindfolded and driven in a military vehicle to the investigation building before being taken to the first floor. The investigations take place from 3 pm until 10 or 11 pm. Since they were blindfolded, prisoners were not able to know whether the interrogations were being conducted by Military Intelligence or National Security officers.
Last week, Amnesty International launched a new global Stop Torture campaign, which accused governments around the world of betraying their commitments to stamp out torture, three decades after the ground-breaking Convention Against Torture was adopted by the UN in 1984.