Hundreds of Egyptians gathered outside the prosecutor general's office last Saturday for a sit-in protest to mark UN Torture Day. The 26 June event was one of many around the world, calling for the strengthening of the fight against torture.
"We've gathered there before to protest torture and mistreatment in various forms, but this was the first time we've rallied on 26 June," Aida Seif Al-Dawla, president of the Egyptian Association Against Torture (EAAT), told Al-Ahram Weekly. "We're rallying against torture -- any kind, and anywhere."
Despite the stifling midday heat, turnout was high, with protesters demanding justice not only for their own countrymen, but also for anyone afflicted by torture around the world.
"It wasn't just members of our organisation that showed up," Seif Al-Dawla said. "Members came, non-members came, and torture victims showed up and exposed their injuries for the press. It was a protest against torture, but it was more about making people aware."
Local and international human rights groups alike consider Egypt's torture record dire. At an EAAT conference last week, held to "expose the lies being told by the Interior Ministry to Human Rights Watch", Seif El- Dawla described the situation in Egyptian prisons, police stations and detention centres as "very bad. What happened in Abu Ghraib happens here every day. The only difference is that there were cameras in Abu Ghraib."
Around the world, rights groups implored that there was "no room for complacency". In a public statement Amnesty International's Kate Allen said that, "the international community must confront attempts to legitimise torture and ill-treatment head on. The recent graphic evidence of the torture and inhuman and degrading treatment of Iraqi detainees by coalition forces, demonstrates all too clearly the need for renewed efforts to prevent and prohibit these abuses."
An e-mail circulating on the Internet to mark the day said, "We call on governments to ensure prompt, impartial investigation of all allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, to bring justice to those responsible for torture, and to ensure reparation for the victims of torture and their dependants."
Under international law, torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishments are absolutely prohibited, even during a state of war or a state of emergency.