The government must put an end to enforced disappearances and torture in al-Azouly Military Prison

Thursday 22 May 2014

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture are extremely concerned by the increase in reported cases of enforced disappearance and torture targeting individuals suspected by the authorities of terrorism-related offenses.

In particular, the organizations condemn the continual detention of civilians inside the al-Azouly Military Prison in Ismailia in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance for periods reaching over four months in some cases. The undersigned organizations call on the Egyptian government to immediately open an independent and impartial investigation into these allegations, and guarantee that the right to fair trial is fully upheld for all those detained in connection to charges of committing violent acts. The organizations also urge the judicial authorities including the Military General Attorney to visit the al-Azouly Military Prison to ensure that no individual is held there unlawfully.

The documented abductions in the middle of the night by men in civilian clothes, disappearances and “confessions” extracted under torture used as evidence in trials are all reminiscent of practices during the worst years of the rule of deposed president Hosni Mubarak under the pretext of “ combating terrorism”.

A clear pattern of abuse has emerged based on information collected and analyzed by the two undersigned organizations including testimonies by relatives of victims of enforced disappearance, their lawyers, activists from the group “ Freedom for the Brave” and former detainees. Individuals are abducted from their homes, the streets or their workplaces across the country by heavily-armed security forces teams, generally composed of men in black uniform, some donning balaclavas, as well as men in civilian dress. Relatives present at scene during the abductions recounted forced entries into their homes in the middle of the night, confiscation of laptops and mobile phones, theft of money and other valuables, and in some cases violence and insults directed at those inside. In all cases, security forces refused to tell distraught relatives where their loved-ones were being taken and why and did not show arrest or search warrants.

For instance, security forces armed with machine guns forcibly entered into the homes and farm of the family of 25 year-old Malek Ahmed Mohamed at 5am on 20 April 2014 - the day of his abduction. They broke doors and confiscated items, not explaining to his relatives why he was wanted. His relatives were only able to see him on 19 May when he was transferred to Tora Istiqbal Prison.

Other relatives are also left without information about the fate or whereabouts of the victims of enforced disappearance for periods ranging from a few weeks to over four months. Families told the undersigned organizations about relentless inquiries to uncover any information about their loved-ones including going to local police stations, the National Security Agency, and prisons including al-Azouly Military Prison. Some families have also gone to the Prison Sector of the Ministry of Interior and submitted complaints to the general prosecution, the National Council for Human Rights and other government bodies. All their efforts were unfortunately in vain, as they were met with silence or denial of any knowledge of the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared persons.

While the frantic search continues, those abducted are held inside al-Azouly Military Prison in inhumane conditions without any contact with the outside world, where they are particularly vulnerable to torture and other ill-treatment. According to the best information available to the undersigned organizations, those abducted are crammed together in small cells [ 23-25 people in cells of the size of approximately 4x6 metres] with minimal lighting and ventilation, with no access to adequate food, health care, potable water or hygienic items. In addition to buckets inside the cells, toilet use is only permitted for a few minutes once a day.

The only other time the victims leave their cells is to be taken for interrogation while handcuffed and blindfolded. According to testimonies, interrogations take place inside another building reachable after a short car journey. There, they are questioned by security officials who don't identify themselves, but who are suspected, by the detainees, to either belong to the military intelligence or the National Security Agency. The detainees are particularly vulnerable to torture during these interrogation sessions, which can happen anytime of day or night, at the whim of the security forces. According to reports received by the undersigned organizations, most frequently used methods of torture include beatings, electric shocks and suspension in contorted positions including those dubbed “ the chicken” and the “ tabliya”. Other reported methods include the pouring of boiling water on the victims' bodies. The main aim appears to be the extraction of “confessions” and names or other information about other individuals allegedly involved in terrorist offenses.

Detainees are also subjected to beatings including with batons and hoses at the hands of the guards, soldiers with the armed forces, while inside their cells or during transfer to interrogations. Detainees are also greeted with beatings upon arrival to the detention facility in a “welcome party”.

The prison conditions themselves amount to torture or ill-treatment. As a result, the health of detainees deteriorated, particularly those with pre-existing chronic health concerns such as high blood pressure and diabetes. The lack of hygiene, adequate nutrition and potable water also lead to the spread of diseases such as scabies and dysentery as well as kidney complications. Detainees are reported to frequently faint given the lack of ventilation and extreme heat in detention. According to the best information available to the undersigned organizations, there is no permanent doctor based in the prison; only rotating medical practitioners, who without examining detainees sometimes chose to dispense basic medicine. They also allegedly provide detainees with creams, which within days remove or minimize bruises and other marks resulting from torture. No other treatment is provided for torture-related injuries including in some cases fractures and severe contusions. Among those held in the al-Azouly Military Prison are older men over sixty and children as young as sixteen.

After a period of time in the al-Azouly Military Prison, some victims are transferred to the National Security Agency in Cairo and later to the Supreme State Security Prosecution, without the presence of lawyers. According to their lawyers, the dates of their arrests are falsified disregarding the periods of detention spent in al-Azouly Military Prison. For instance, official documents claim that Ahmed Abdel Samie was arrested on 17 April 2014, the day he appeared in front of the State Security Prosecution. According to his relatives, he was abducted in the city of 6 October on 14 January 2014. During this whole period, his family searched for him relentlessly, sent telegrams, copies of which were seen by the undersigned organizations, to the general prosecutor the day following his abduction, and visited al-Azouly Prison after hearing rumours that Abdel Samie was detained there. Abdel Samie's name appeared on the indictment list of 200 individuals accused of conducting terrorist acts and referred to court by the State Security Prosecution on 10 May 2014 in the case commonly-referred to as “ Ansar Bait al-Maqdis” . Others on the list, including those referred to as “ escapees”, have been allegedly subjected to enforced disappearance by the security forces. Some appeared in court.

After appearing in front of the State Security Prosecution, victims are transferred to the Aqrab High Security Prison or other prisons in the Tora complex. Requests for visits to the Supreme State Security Prosecution by a number of families whose family members have been transferred from al-Azouly Military Prison to al-Aqrab High Security Prison have not been met. The undersigned organizations call on the authorities to grant detainees the right to immediately see their families and lawyers.

Some of those subjected to enforced disappearance in recent months are still missing. For instance, there is no official information about the whereabouts of Mohamed Abdel Tawab, abducted from his workplace at the Cairo International Airport on 5 April 2014 by a security official believed to be a member of the National Security Agency. Despite sending telegrams to the general prosecution, looking for him in prisons and police stations, submitting complaints to the authorities, Abdel Tawab's relatives have yet to obtain any official information about his whereabouts or fate. After receiving a call from someone claiming that Abdel Tawab was in al-Azouly Military Prison, his relatives made the trip to Ismailia only to be met with silence.

The undersigned organizations recognize the persistence of deadly and violent attacks in Egypt mainly targeting security forces, including the latest killing of three security officials on 19 May 2014 and the Egyptian government's duty to prevent, investigate and punish any violent acts. However, in doing so, the Egyptian government must uphold constitutional guarantees, and its international obligations, against unlawful detention and torture. They must also guarantee the right to fair trial for all those accused of involvement in terrorism-related offenses, which includes the right to be brought in front of independent judicial authorities, the right to adequate defense, and the possibility to challenge the legality of one's detention. In particular, the undersigned organizations are calling on the judicial authorities to disregard any evidence including “confessions” or information provided under torture or duress.