The Matariya police station slaughterhouse: Prosecutors must conduct a diligent, impartial investigation into deaths inside the station

Wednesday 3 February 2016

The family of Adel Abd al-Sami' , today filed a complaint with the public prosecutor (no. 1398/2015/Public Prosecutor petitions) stating that Adel had been tortured to death in the Matariya police station in October 2015 and formally urged the prosecution to investigate. His family saw injuries on his body during his detention as well as injuries on the body and burns on his arms after his death. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights urges the Public Prosecution to conduct a diligent, impartial investigation into the Interior Ministry’s responsibility for Abd al-Sami'’s death in custody at the Matariya police station.

The Matariya station has become one of the most dangerous police stations in Egypt in terms of detainees’ lives and rights, with at least 14 deaths in custody over the last two years.

The Matariya police station is an illustration of what happens when the police are allowed to act with impunity. They have been given free reign to carry out vengeful reprisal against detainees, both political and regular criminal prisoners, and especially since the killing of the station’s head of investigations, Wael Tahoun, last April.

The Interior Ministry is responsible for the death of Adel Abd al-Sami', who died on October 22 while in custody at the station. Although the ministry claims that Abd al-Sami' died of a skin condition, this is not consistent with the injuries found on his body in the morgue, which included cigarette burns and obvious lacerations. The Interior Ministry’s claim, despite its untruth, does not absolve it of responsibility for the death of a detainee as a result of medical neglect.

In another demonstration of how police use their authority to tamper with evidence, a crisis erupted last week between the Doctors Syndicate and the Interior Ministry after two junior policemen from the Matariya station assaulted two doctors at the Matariya Hospital when they refused to record false injuries in a medical report.

Over the past two years, the Matariya station has led other detention facilities in the number of deaths under torture, with a total of 14 deaths, six in 2014 and 8 in 2015. In February 2015, two Homeland Security officers tortured lawyer Karim Hamdi to death; in December 2015, they were sentenced to five years in prison by the North Cairo Felony Court.

A force with the Matariya station arrested Adel Abd al-Samiya in Matariya on suspicion of stealing a mobile phone on October 4, 2015. The same evening a police force searched his home; at the time, Abd al-Sami'’s face showed clear signs of beating and there was blood on his t-shirt. When the search turned up nothing, he was taken to the Matariya police station. The prosecution ordered him remanded for four days pending investigation on charges of theft of a mobile phone, later extended another 15 days. Abd al-Sami' was held the entire time in the Matariya station.

His noted a deterioration in his health and general demeanor during their daily visits over the period of his detention. His older sister said that on the visit the day immediately following the arrest, the other detainees had to carry him because he was unable to stand on his feet. On the fourth day, he was extremely ill, and when his sister asked the officer to take him to a doctor, a junior policeman said sneering, “We don’t treat anyone here.”

The last time his family saw Abd al-Sami' was the day he was taken to trial, October 22, 2015, when he appeared wearing clothing other than that he wore in the lockup. That evening, his family received a phone call from the family of another prisoner who informed them that “Adel was in very bad shape.” The family rushed to the police station where a junior policeman informed Abd al-Sami'’s sister that he would tell her where Abd al-Sami' was if she would take her sons out of the station. He then told her that her brother was at the Matariya Hospital. When the family went to the hospital, they learned Abd al-Sami' was dead and had been taken to the morgue. There a police force tried to deny them entry to see the body, but Abd al-Sami'’s nephews were able to gain entry. When they saw traces of cigarette burns on Adel’s arms, severe injuries on his thigh, and injuries on his face and head, they photographed his body.

As a result of the general impunity for torture, many families see little point in filing complaints against the police, or they fear intimidation from the police station, which is typically located in their neighborhood. In the rare cases in which a family tries to fight for justice by filing a complaint with the Public Prosecution, it must wage another battle to make the prosecutor conduct a diligent, impartial inquiry into the subject of the complaint.

In mid-December, Abd al-Sami'’s family went to the East Cairo Incidents Prosecution, where a prosecutor attempted to dissuade them from accusing the Interior Ministry of torture, telling them that Abd al-Sami' died as a result of a skin disease. When the family’s lawyer asked for the medical examiner’s report, he said it had not yet been issued, although two months had passed since the incident. When Abd al-Sami'’s family told the prosecutor they insisted on giving their statements he asked them to wait outside and left them waiting for hours. In the end he only permitted Abd al-Sami'’s mother to make a statement, and even then he purposefully cut off her responses and refused her petition to file a civil suit against the interior minister and police officers at the Matariya station, according to the family’s lawyer. The lawyer representing Abd al-Sami'’s family has faced difficulties in copying the case files and she has been unable to view the preliminary report from the medical examiner.

One of the main reasons for the ongoing torture crisis in Egypt is the lack of genuine oversight of detention facilities. Prosecutors fail to fulfil their required role in inspecting police stations, prisoners have no ability to lodge complaints before an oversight body, and unannounced visits by independent bodies are not permitted. Policemen today feel they are above the law and that the state will protect them against any attempted prosecution.

Impunity for torture means that perpetrators of these abuses face no legal or actual accountability measures, whether criminal, civil, administrative, or disciplinary. This is a result of flaws in the statutory provisions that fail to fully criminalise torture and bodily harm. Policemen are able to evade an investigation that would allow them to be charged, detained, and prosecuted since they are typically public servants. As a result, investigations are protracted and not serious. When a policeman is charged, evidence of the crime—collected by police themselves—is often quashed, and there are inadequate safeguards in place for the protection of witnesses. If a policeman goes to trial, the sentence is not commensurate with the crime and the injury sustained by the victim.

The Egyptian constitution and international conventions affirm the state’s responsibility for protecting and preserving the lives of persons in state custody. Article 52 of the constitution states that torture of all kinds is a crime not subject to a statute of limitations, while Article 55 states, “Every person who is arrested, incarcerated, or has his freedom curtailed must be treated in a way that preserves his dignity. He may not be subject to torture, intimidation, coercion, or physical or psychological harm, and he may only be held or detained in locations designated for this purpose with adequate human and health amenities. A violation of any of the foregoing is a crime punishable by law.” International conventions have several dedicated provisions addressing violations in detention facilities. Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Egypt with Republican Decree 537/1981, states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” The Human Rights Committee in General Comment No. 2 has explained that states are responsible for protecting detained individuals from torture and ill treatment.

In late 2015, the issue of torture grabbed the headlines, especially after demonstrations in Luxor following the death of Talaat Shabib under torture in November 2015. The same month saw more demonstrations in Ismailiya after Dr. Afifi Hassan died under torture in the Ismailiya 1 police station.

EIPR urges the Office of the Public Prosecutor to take diligent measures to investigate the police for their responsibility in these death in custody cases and to avoid delays that may allow them to evade accountability. The prosecution must scrutinize evidence submitted by the police, since police are a party in these cases. We also urge the state to review Egyptian law for compliance with the Convention Against Torture and to ratify the optional protocol of the Convention Against Torture, to enable it to meet its international obligations.