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In Egypt, diary of 'torture' captures police brutality

Hundreds of allegations have been logged into Egypt’s “torture diary,” a chronicle of claimed police brutality compiled by the Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, an independent victims advocacy group in Cairo.

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“It is a counter-message to what the state is doing. These are not the mistakes of one person, this is a systematic intimidation and humiliation of 80 million Egyptians,” said Adly, who charged that she, too, had been a victim of state security tactics when a policeman beat her so badly in 2008 that she fell and broke her shoulder.

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Called "Egyptians in an Emergency State,” the diary takes aim at Egypt's broad emergency laws as they're applied to average Egyptians and political dissidents. The laws, in effect for nearly 30 years, allow authorities to make arbitrary arrests, hold prisoners indefinitely without trial and prosecute civilians in military courts.

Cracking down on terrorists, drug traffickers?

Mubarak's government says that the laws, which were extended for another two years in May, are vital for building cases against terrorists and major drug traffickers. Pro-reform activists and human rights groups, however, say the code more often is used to intimidate people and to stifle dissent against Mubarak, who's ruled Egypt since 1981 and remains one of Washington's most reliable friends in the region.

“I get three to five calls a day from people complaining of police insults, arbitrary arrests and torture,” said Haitham Mohamdein, a staff lawyer with Nadeem who also runs the group's hot line.

Addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council on June 11 in Geneva, Hossam Bahgat, the executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a legal advocacy group, criticized the authorities’ continued use of emergency laws.

“The repeated renewal of the state of emergency and the reliance on its sweeping repressive measures sends the message that the government sees itself and its powerful security apparatus as being above the law. The result has been a pervasive atmosphere of impunity for human rights violations, particularly with regard to the systematic and widespread practice of torture in places of detention,” Bahgat said.

The issue of police brutality has surged to the forefront of national news in Egypt with big demonstrations in recent weeks to protest the apparent beating death of 28-year-old Khaled Said.

According to witnesses, two plainclothes policemen beat Said last month, ramming his head against a marble slab, an iron gate and the steps of a staircase, until he died. After Nadeem and other human rights groups challenged early dismissive statements about the case and public outrage persisted, authorities charged two police officers with torture and excessive use of force.

Nadeem staff members charged that their diary showed Said's case was far from isolated and that there had been more than 200 alleged human rights violations since February.

Mohamdein said the pattern he noticed from the phone calls and written diary accounts was that authorities generally arrested men ages 18 to 45. Torture is common _ including electric shock _ along with sexual harassment and harsh beatings, Mohamdein said, and the cases rarely end up in court, either because the victims are too scared to press charges or because authorities stall the legal process and protect their officers.

Even keeping the diary is risky, Adly said. She said security officials regularly subjected Nadeem's staff to threats and intimidation. Other obstacles include victims who are reluctant to report their stories because they've been threatened with more brutality if they share their cases with human rights groups, Adly said.