CAIRO, Egypt—Detainees held in lockups run by Egypt’s military say they were forced to strip to their underwear, whipped and subjected to electric shocks, according to testimony published Thursday.
The detainees had been rounded up as part of a crackdown on anti-government protesters in the days before the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11. After Mubarak’s fall, the military took charge and promised to transfer power to a civilian government in coming months.
Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, urged the military to halt mistreatment in its lockups and release all protesters still in detention. “The Egyptian military authorities have committed publicly to creating a climate of freedom and democracy after so many years of repression,” said Amnesty’s regional director, Malcolm Smart. “Now they must match their words with direct action.”
A military spokesman rejected Amnesty’s allegations of abuse, and denied that the military targets activists or protesters. “Where is this information from?” Lt. General Ismail Etman, spokesman for the military said on state TV. “No soldier would lay a hand on the body of an honorable citizen.” He said the military has received a list of detainees provided by activists and is “searching” for them.
The military was deployed in Egypt on Jan. 28 to try to restore security as police disappeared from the streets amid the mass protests. Torture by police and other security agents has been widespread in Egypt for years, and grievances linked to such mistreatment helped drive the protests that erupted Jan. 25 and eventually toppled Mubarak.
Criticism of the military’s handling of the transition is on the rise. Youth groups and democracy advocates have said little has been done to usher in reform or bring civilians in the decision-making process. Detainees held in military detention centers said they suffered harsh mistreatment in the days before Mubarak’s fall.
A 29-year-old man said he was detained Feb. 3 and initially held in an annex to the Egyptian Museum overlooking Tahrir Square, the center of the mass protests. “They called me a traitor and a foreign agent and forced me to take off my clothes except my underwear and to lie face down on the floor,” the man, whose name was withheld to protect his safety, told Amnesty International.
“Then they beat me with a whip and stepped with boots on my back and on my hands. They kicked me,” he said. He said he was then moved to another location, subjected to electric shocks and threatened with rape before being transferred to a military prison northeast of Cairo. There, he was repeatedly beaten before being released after a week, he said.
An 18-year old said he was detained Feb. 3 at Tahrir Square and released with hundreds others on Feb.10.
“Then I was taken for interrogation where they insulted me and my family,” he told Amnesty. “They said things one should not say. They took off my handcuffs, because they ordered me to take off my clothes, except my underwear, but I remained blindfolded,” he said. He was then tied by the legs repeatedly dunked into a barrel of water.
“They told me to confess that I was trained by Israel or by Iran. They also put electric shocks to my body and I fainted,” he said. Mohamed El-Khatib, a 53-year old government employee from the city of Suez, was arrested Feb. 2 for allegedly violating the nightly curfew enforced by the military before Mubarak’s ouster.
El-Khatib told The Associated Press he was interrogated at a military detention center about why he participated in the protests, and accused of trying to overthrow the regime. While blindfolded, he said he was beaten with sticks and whipped and threatened he would never leave the lockup alive. On Feb. 10, he and dozens of other detainees appeared before a military court and were given suspended three-month sentences.
“It was as if they were telling us ‘accept the sentence, so we can let you out,”‘ said El-Khatib, who has since been released. “The honorable people in the military have to get our rights back. I will not be silent. I want my right.”