A screengrab from one of the leaked torture videos appears to show a detainee held in painful stress position. ©Amnesty International

Egypt: Investigate police officers, not detainees, for leaked torture videos

Egyptian authorities must stop their appalling reprisals against at least nine detainees and three of their family members and friends whom they are investigating for their dissemination of leaked videos of police abuse at al-Salam First police station in Cairo, Amnesty International said today. The organization is calling for prompt and effective investigations of all policemen responsible for the treatment of detainees depicted in the videos, including the cause of visible bruises and marks and holding them in stress positions.

Instead of investigating claims of torture or other ill-treatment, Egypt’s Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) has opened investigations against nine detainees including eight who appeared in the leaked videos, first revealed by the Guardian on 24 January, as well as three others, including a 15-year old child, arrested since February on accusations of “helping to spread the videos.” Initially arrested for offences of a non-political nature, including drug possession and assault, since the video leaks the detainees have faced a range of accusations including “spreading false news.”

“It is both shameful and surreal that the Egyptian authorities’ response to this video was to punish the victims and some of their friends instead of immediately investigating those caught on video in a stark illustration of Egypt’s epidemic of torture and other ill-treatment. This is yet another scene in the farce of the authorities blatantly denying any wrongdoing and suppressing the voices of victims daring to call for justice,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director.

“Police officers at al-Salam First reasonably suspected of involvement in the torture or other ill-treatment of detainees should be suspended from service pending the outcome of criminal investigations, and authorities must ensure that detainees alleging torture and other ill-treatment are protected from further reprisals and able to give their testimonies confidentially. All those held solely in relation to disseminating the leaked videos must be immediately released since they were peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

Amnesty International has reviewed the two videos in question, which it received from a source on 23 January 2022 before the Guardian published its article. One video, covertly recorded through a cell door, shows two shirtless inmates suspended by their arms from a metal grate. The second shows inmates lining up to display injuries and marks and they can be heard saying that these were inflicted by police officers. Amnesty International reviewed the social media platforms of three police officers named by the detainees in the videos indicating they work in al-Salam First police station.

In response to the Guardian article on 24 January, the Ministry of Interior immediately dismissed the videos as fabricated. On 15 February, the Public Prosecution implausibly claimed that the men depicted in the videos had been  “incited by unknown individuals” from inside and outside Egypt to “wound themselves” with a metal coin, and to disseminate the video with the aim of “spreading lies and instability.” The investigations were deeply flawed as even the Public Prosecution admitted to relying on police investigations.

Later in February, pro-government media and social media accounts shared videos of some of the detainees admitting to staging the leaked videos and wounding themselves during a fight. These “confessions” were filmed in visibly coercive circumstances with detainees handcuffed to each other and questioned aggressively by policemen, in a manner that violates the rights of detainees not to self-incriminate as well as the prohibition on torture or other ill-treatment.

On 1 February 2022, Amnesty International received a third video showing several of the detainees who appeared in one of the original videos pleading to the Egyptian president to save them from torture and reprisals by the police. The third video, which was filmed on 28 January, showed men with wounds across their upper bodies and limbs, complaining of further beatings by police officers and bans of family visits and food deliveries in punishment for the initial leaks. At least one of the men who appeared in the videos has been detained at an undisclosed location since 30 January in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance.

Chasing victims

According to three informed sources and the Egyptian Front for Human Rights, at least 12 individuals were brought separately before the SSSP between 16 February and 1 March in connection to the leaked videos. All were then detained pending investigations into various charges including “spreading false news”, “membership in a terrorist group”, “aiding a terrorist group”, “possession of publishing tool inside a place of detention”, “funding a terrorist group” and “misusing social media”.

It is both shameful and surreal that the Egyptian authorities’ response to this video was to punish the victims and some of their friends instead of immediately investigating those caught on video in a stark illustration of Egypt’s epidemic of torture and other ill-treatment.

Philip Luther, Amnesty International

Nasser Omran, a 46-year-old held in connection to the leaked video, was subjected to an enforced disappearance from his arrest on 9 February until his appearance at the SSSP on 20 February, in contravention of both international and Egyptian law. During his period, he was denied contact with his family and lawyer. He was previously detained at al-Salam First police station between December 2021 and January 2022 in relation to a drug-related offence, of which he has now been cleared.

Families and friends of the detainees who appeared in the leaked videos have also been targeted.

On 16 February, security forces arrested 15-year-old student Ziad Khaled from his home in Salam City, Cairo. They raided the house without showing a warrant, seized his phone and detained him in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance at an undisclosed location. There, security forces questioned him about his relationship with a detainee who appeared in the leaked videos before taking him to the SSSP on 1 March. He remains detained pending investigations into accusations of “assisting and funding a terrorist group and spreading false news.”

Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian authorities to drop the investigations against the 12 detainees over their involvement in the video, and order their release unless they are charged and referred to trial over internationally recognizable offences unrelated to the leaked videos. Authorities must ensure that those who had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment are afforded adequate reparations for the harm suffered.

“The Egyptian government’s claims to be improving the human rights situation ring hollow in the face of evidence of the prosecution’s complicity with the police in bringing unfounded terrorism accusations against victims daring to expose police torture and other ill-treatment, rather than holding policemen accountable. This environment of impunity and reprisals sets in sharp relief the need for an international monitoring and reporting mechanism at the UN Human Rights Council to look into the human rights situation in Egypt,” said Philip Luther.

Background

Torture and other ill-treatment are routinely used in Egypt particularly during the investigation phase and in the initial period of detention. Most frequently reported methods of torture include electric shocks, suspension by the limbs, indefinite solitary confinement in inhumane conditions, sexual abuse and beatings.

Amnesty International documented the use of torture and enforced disappearances by the National Security Agency, the Military Intelligence and General Intelligence since 2015, including to extract “confessions” under torture. Dozens have died in custody since 2013 amid credible reports of being denied access to healthcare and of torture and other ill-treatment.