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.
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Those who are arrested today expect to, at the very least, experience beatings by the officers overseeing them. And all too often, prisoners are subjected to much harsher forms of brutality, including electrocution, sexual harassment, and even starvation.Skip to next paragraph
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Kareem El-Behirey was arrested in 2008 with Hafez in Mahalla. He spent nearly 3 years in prison, facing gruesome acts of torture. He is now working as a political activist in Cairo.
“Torture has become the norm in Egypt,” he says. “It is so normal and no one cares anymore.”
Some of the most inhumane practices are found in police stations in poorer, rural areas, such as Mahalla, where oversight is at its lowest. Hafez, who was pulled from his bed in the middle of the night and brought to a station operated by Mahalla officers, says the inhumane treatment started for him the second he walked through the doors.
Like all the other detainees, the officers referred to Hafez not by his name, but by a number: 20. He was pressured to confess to crimes he did not commit – making and throwing Molotov cocktails at the rally.
“[The head of the police station, Major Yasser Abdel Hamid Abdallah el-Sayyed] said ‘I am going to seriously upset your entire family if you don’t say what I tell you to,'” Hafez says.
“I was going to be framed for very huge things. I said ‘I swear to God I didn’t do anything, all of the things you are saying I didn’t do.’” Hafez says, “That didn’t work for them.”
That’s when the torture started.
“They took me into a ceramic room with air conditioning and steel doors. They used to make me jump on my knees. Then, with a huge stick, they would hit me on my back,” Hafez says. “After a while of being beaten they untied me and left me on the floor.”
The most painful torture started when the officers began the electrocution. They handcuffed his hands and legs to the bed, put another man face down on top of him, and tied them both to a bed. The electrocution lasted for four days with limited breaks.
Hafez was eventually transferred to Borg al-Arab prison in Alexandria. He spent the last 32 months of his sentence in Al Hadra prison, also located in Alexandria and was finally released last spring.
Torture in Egypt is not just limited to political dissidents like Hafez and Mohammed. It is applied to what the London-based human rights group has dubbed “criminal administrative detainees,” or prisoners who are associated with ordinary criminal activity.
But the majority of torture complaints never reach court because police intimidate victims and family members. Law enforcement officials are rarely investigated.
“The entire system is corrupt,” Dr. Fayyad says. “The police have power. Nobody will ask after them if someone dies. And they can make false documents easily.”
Hafez's engagement photo, taken when he was 19, still hangs in his room. He is posing with his then-fiancé, smiling. He says the photo is a constant reminder of the life he used to live and the one he knows has been lost.
“I didn’t get tired from the electricity and the beatings,” he says. “It was that they undressed me, and made me like a dog and used to ask ‘Do you want to be a human being or not? I’ll put your clothes back on if you do.’ That sentence used to kill me.”