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Two years after Mubarak, his prison torture apparatus still wounds Egypt

Human rights activists hoped a democratic government would bring reform to Egypt's prison system, but two years after the revolution, they are still calling for an end to torture. 

By Erin BancoContributor / October 13, 2012

Political activists and relatives of political prisoners, imprisoned since the January 25 revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, wave banners and shout slogans during a protest against the government in front of the main gate of Tora prison on the outskirts of Cairo in this July 29 file photo.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters/File

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Cairo

Sitting cross-legged on a makeshift bed in his parent’s apartment, Tarek Mohamed Abdel Hafez lifts his jacket to reveals his battle scars – marks from the first few weeks of his nearly 1,000-day sentence in prison. 

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“It was 12 days of torture – four days upstairs and eight days underground, where I was naked and not given any food or water," he says.

Mr. Hafez says he was wrongly accused of throwing explosives at police during the two-day uprising in Mahalla, where he lives, in April 2008. The protest was one of the most infamous political demonstrations to take place before the Jan. 25 revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds of people were arrested, including Hafez, and many faced torture – a practice that has long been ingrained in the Egyptian prison system.

Police torture was one of the main grievances of the protesters who flooded Tahrir Square in 2011, and Egyptians hoped that the election of the country’s first civilian president would bring reformation of institutions of repression under Mubarak. But not much has changed in the intervening years.

“Torture in Egyptian police stations is regular, systematic, and widespread,” says Dr. Suzan Fayyad, director for the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence. The Nadim Center is one of the few local advocacy groups working to address torture in the country’s prisons. “Every person who walks into a police station risks falling as victim of torture.” 

Amnesty International released a report last week outlining abuses committed by the country’s police forces. The document called on democratically elected President Mohammad Morsi to initiate a plan for reform in order to curb human rights abuses at all levels of the security forces.

But the police station system, operated by the General Investigations Police forces, has been operating with almost total impunity for decades, and activists say immediate improvement seems unlikely. Previous demands for reform from human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, went unheeded. The UN Convention against Torture requires that all persons responsible for acts of torture be brought to criminal justice. But it has been almost two years since Mubarak’s ouster, and many who worked as police under his rule remain unpunished.

Mohammed, whose last name is being withheld for security purposes, was arrested three times during Mubarak’s reign – in 1986, 1989, and 1992 – for participating in political demonstrations. Each time he was arrested Mohammed says he was kicked, beaten, whipped on the back of the head, and forced to sleep in mud holes in the ground. 

“Nothing has changed since then,” he says. “Torture is the same as it was.” 

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