Cairo, Geneva, 15 January 2011- Alkarama Foundation (Geneva) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (Cairo) today condemned the arbitrary arrests and other violations committed by Egyptian security forces following the bombings at the Two Saints Church in Alexandria earlier this month. The two organizations called on the Public Prosecutor to investigate these abuses, hold those responsible accountable and refer them to a speedy trial.
The two organizations added that the abuses documented by a fact-finding mission sent to the Alexandria governorate reveal that the Egyptian government is continuing to use the same failed strategy to confront violence and crimes of terrorism, along with the extrajudicial means it routinely employs to deal with sectarian issues. Far from preventing such incidents from reoccurring, this strategy only increases the tension and fosters hatred, sectarianism and more violence.
“The days following the bombings saw flagrant abuses by security forces, including the arrest of demonstrators who took to the streets to peacefully condemn the bombings, as well as the use of excessive force against the protestors and the deployment of rubber bullets and tear gas canisters,” said Rachid Mesli, director of Alkarama Foundation's legal department. “Such security abuses however reached their peak with what was recently revealed about arbitrary arrests, detention in disclosed locations and even torture to death of some individuals," he added.
Alkarama and the EIPR said that they have confirmed information indicating that some 300 people were arrested in the Alexandria governorate alone, along with an unspecified number in other governorates. The two groups said that the Egyptian security authorities arrested these people and took them to secret detention facilities, in complete seclusion from the outside world. In addition, many students at Alexandria University’s Faculty of Engineering and the Wireless Communications Institute were arrested.
Alkarama and the EIPR also said that there are strong indications that at least one citizen, al-Sayyid Bilal, was killed after being tortured while in detention at a State Security Investigations’ (SSI) facility in Alexandria. Information also suggests that dozens of other detainees were tortured for several days before some were released.
The Egyptian government has thus far not revealed the number of detained suspects, although it says that investigations are underway to find evidence that will lead to the perpetrators of the crime. The Public Prosecutor denied that anyone is being detained pending investigations in connection with the bombings.
“We hoped the Egyptian government would have learned its lesson over the past two decades and implemented a new policy for countering terrorism and sectarian violence, but the conduct of the security apparatus and statements from officials indicate that the policy of violence, abuse and complete disregard for the rule of law still prevails in its worst form,” said Hossam Bahgat, the executive director of the EIPR.
The two organizations called upon the Egyptian government and the security authorities investigating the church bombing to comply with the Constitution and Egyptian and international law and put an immediate end to all violations of citizens’ rights in connection with the incident. They also asked the Egyptian government to refrain from using any crime as a pretext to abuse or harass citizens, or usurp their rights, particularly the rights to life and bodily integrity, and the right to freedom of opinion and expression, assembly and movement.
Some of the documented cases
Tortured to death (the death of al-Sayyid Bilal)
Egyptian citizen al-Sayyid Mohamed Bilal, a 32-year-old married resident of al-Zahiriya in Alexandria, was summoned to SSI headquarters in Alexandria on 5 January. As soon as he presented himself, SSI forces accompanied him to his home and searched it, confiscating his computer and some books. They then detained him in the Labban police station’s transfer building, known as the old district security building, located in Attarin. Twenty-four hours after his arrest, he was declared dead.
According to statements from the victim’s family to Alkarama and the EIPR, the family received a phone call from the Zuqeilh medical center in Alexandria the day after al-Sayyid Bilal’s summons, asking them to come and claim his body. When the family went to the medical center, they found police officers with the Labban station asking them to claim the body. They refused to do so, however, after they noticed signs of torture on his body, including wounds on the forehead, abrasions on his hands suggesting he was hung from his hands and abrasions and bruising on his feet, suggesting he was hung from his feet as well.
The victim’s family filed a report with the Public Prosecutor asking for an investigation into the cause of death, but the security authorities began to pressure and intimidate the family to force them to withdraw the complaint, according to Subhi Saleh, a lawyer close to the family. Saleh said he was unable to reach the family or even file a complaint about the threats on their behalf with the Public Prosecutor because of the tight security cordon imposed by the authorities on the home of the victim and his family.
Forced disappearance (Mohamed Ismail Abduh)
Mohamed Ismail Abduh, a 26-year-old married engineer, was arrested from his home in Obeis al-Ashara, located in Alexandria’s Obeis area, by SSI forces in Alexandria on 5 January and has not been heard of since.
According to the victim’s family, in a statement to researchers with the two organizations, SSI forces raided the family’s home at dawn, arresting Abduh, intimidating his family and confiscating his computer, certain personal documents and files for his work projects. The security forces then took him to an undisclosed location.
Khalaf Bayoumi, the lawyer for the victim’s family, said that he went to the SSI headquarters in Alexandria to inquire about Abduh, but they denied they were holding him. He later filed a report with the Public Prosecutor regarding Abduh’s disappearance, adding that the family fears something will happen to him because of the disappearance.
Arbitrary arrest and secret detention
The days following the Alexandria bombing