EIPR: Cassation Court in case of tortured Luxor vendor upholds rule of law and accountability for law enforcement officials
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) commends the Court of Cassation ruling of October 25 upholding sentences against a police first lieutenant and five detectives in the case of Talaat Shabib where they were convicted for battery and assault leading to death of Talaat Shabib, a vendor in Luxor. The ruling upholds principles of rule of law and reinforces institutional accountability for law enforcement officials. The court rejected the police officer’s appeal of the seven-year prison sentence given to him after his conviction on charges of battery leading to death, thereby rendering the sentence final. In confirming a penalty for police officials who have grown accustomed to working in a climate of total impunity or, at best, facing the slightest of charges and penalties for systemic abuses that have repeatedly resulted in the loss of lives of Egyptian citizens; the Court of Cassation has affirmed the importance of accountability and liability for public servants, without which no justice system can function.
EIPR stresses the important role judicial institutions could play in punishing the wrongful use of force by police and law enforcement officers. Such actions are vital to stop the rampant cases of death in custody due to beatings and torture. This is especially true given the lack of effective oversight over these facilities by either independent state bodies or the judicial bodies tasked with inspecting them under Article 55 of the constitution and laws regulating the judiciary, prisons, and criminal procedure.
On 12 July 2016, the Qina circuit of the Luxor Felony Court sentenced First Lt. Samir Hani to seven years imprisonment and five detectives to three years with hard labour on charges of beating Talaat Shabib and causing his death in the Luxor police station. The court acquitted the deputy investigations chief at the station, two officers, and three other recruits of the charges against them. The court also ordered the Interior Ministry, as the body liable for the defendants’ actions, to pay restitution of LE1.5 million to the civil plaintiffs and all legal fees.
On 24 November 2015, a police force stopped Talaat Shabib near a café in the Hawamidya area of Luxor, asking for his identification while verbally abusing him. It is worth noting that these identification checks are routine and typically warrant no use of force of any kind. When Shabib objected to the unjustified verbal insult and abusive manner of one of the officers, the officer slapped him in the face. According to witnesses, the victim did not acquiesce to this treatment and a physical altercation ensued. Shabib was arrested and taken to the Luxor police station, where he was brutally beaten for two hours and then died in custody. The prosecutor’s investigations into the case—which sparked wide controversy and demonstrations in Luxor—found that the police investigators attempted to cover up the fact that Shabib died during questioning, and tried to place him in the police station’s holding room until an ambulance arrived. The holding room officer, however, refused to admit him on account that he was already dead when he was brought to the holding room. This was further confirmed by the preliminary medical report, which stated that the victim died before reaching the hospital as a result of beating and torture.
The forensic report found numerous bruises and injuries on the victim’s body, including fractures of the cervical vertebrae that led to his death. The prosecution’s investigations concluded in late 2015 by referring 13 policemen to criminal trial in case no. 2280/2015; the first-instance court issued its judgment in July 2016.
Rights organizations documented nine cases of death in detention facilities in the same month in which Talaat Shabib was killed. Police violence will not subside without taking genuine steps to ensure accountability and oversight and prevent torture and violence before it occurs. The EIPR reiterates the importance of such preliminary steps, as well as structural changes necessary to achieve a measure of oversight of police performance, which include:
- diligent treatment of complaints against law enforcement officials and an immediate investigation into torture allegations;
- enforcing the power of the prosecution to conduct unannounced inspections of detention facilities under Article 42 of the Code of Criminal Procedure;
- amending statutes governing the use of force by police and bringing Penal Code provisions on torture into compliance with best legislative practices and international law; and
- establishing dedicated, independent mechanisms for oversight of detention facilities and for investigating deaths involving law enforcement officials.