Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Uniform abuse

The press is hammering the Interior Ministry with a bundle of accusations, writes Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Privately-owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm published a seven-page feature story on 19 April under the headline “The Police: Martyrs and Sins — Holes in the Official Uniform.” The report, which documented accusations police brutality, concluded that personnel within the Interior Ministry had engaged in torture, rape, abuse, theft, and kidnapping.

Part of the spread focussed on the way illiterate police conscripts are used in the Central Security Forces because of “their total obedience to orders”. It dealt in detail with five notorious incidents: the killing of the leftist activist Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh during a march; the murder of a conscript by his commanding officer in Sinai; the shooting of a convict by a police officer in a hospital; the alleged rape of a girl by two policemen and the torturing to death of lawyer Karim Hamdi in Matariya police station.

The report, which also paid tribute to police martyrs and published interviews with their families, said these, and other, violations signalled a return to “the era of Habib Al-Adli” whose tenure at the Interior Ministry was characterised by mass torture, corruption, and the brutal oppression of anyone opposed to the Mubarak-regime.

The Interior Ministry responded quickly. On the same day the story was published the ministry issued a statement claiming the report was malicious and “triggered by a dispute between the ministry and one of the newspaper’s reporters” – a reference to Youssri Al-Badri, a page editor who was interrogated by State Security over a story on the bombing that targeted the Daqahliya Security Directorate in December 2013. The statement also said the ministry would take “legal action” against the “libellous” news report.

The following day prosecutors summoned Al-Masry Al-Youm chief editor Mahmoud Mosallam and four journalists, including Al-Badri, for questioning. The interrogation was then postponed to 26 April at the request of Press Syndicate ChairmanYehia Qallash.

 “We are a daily newspaper. Our job is to keep abreast of current events not to become embroiled in personal disputes,” says Al-Badri.
“The feature story to which the ministry objects was an attempt to follow up on a series of complaints that the security apparatus is abusing its authority. The latest was an official complaint filed by the National Council for Human Rights on the conditions faced by political detainees inside Abu Zaabal prison. The story was a response to public outrage against police violations,” says Al-Badri.

He adds that he finds it odd the ministry did not deny the accusations contained in the story.

The story took a further turn on Friday when Interior Minister Magdi Abdel-Ghaffar appointed Major-General Abu Bakr Abdel-Karim as head of the Interior Ministry’s public relations and media department, replacing Major-General Hani Abdel-Latif.

On 26 April journalists who had gathered at the headquarters of the Press Syndicate in support of Al-Masry Al-Youm journalists were told that the investigation had been postponed until further notice.

“There is an attempt to calm the situation,” Qallash told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Referring the reporters to investigation would have escalated the dispute.”

Qallash had a meeting with Abdel-Ghaffar on Tuesday in which Qallash said he proposed “the idea that any disagreement should be resolved through dialogue and providing information.”

“The Interior Minister promised to abolish the residual effects of the dispute. The Interior Ministry has every right to respond to the report and legally question the accuracy of what was published. It should not opt for unjustified procedures that violate press freedom,” said Qallash.

“I urged the minister to transfer the journalists imprisoned in pending cases from Abu Zaabal prison to Tora prison for more proper supervision and also so as not to let their families suffer hardship while visiting them,” he said, adding that the minister promised to study the subject.

The Press Syndicate issued a statement on Monday denouncing the Interior Ministry’s “attempts to intimidate colleagues” and branding the ministry’s response to the story as a “restriction on the freedom of the press.”

“The increase in complaints filed against journalists opens the door for restricting more freedoms,” the syndicate said. A more constructive approach by the ministry would have been to investigate the violations highlighted in the story and provide answers to the public.

Indefinitely postponing the investigation and replacing the head of media department at the ministry suggests officials realise they have a problem, says human rights activist Negad Al-Borai. “These two actions imply the ministry is attempting to address the situation,” he told the Weekly.

Following the footsteps of Al-Masry Al-Youm, the state-owned Al-Ahram daily published a similar story on 25 April under the banner “Those who don’t die of torture die of suffocation”. The report, which focussed mainly on conditions inside Old Cairo police station where two detainees died earlier this month, highlighted incidents of police abuse of power and negligence “We would like to ask officials in the Ministry of Interior when they consider the lives of citizens of value and remind them defendants are innocent until proven guilty,” said the article.

On 27 April the privately-owned Al-Badil newspaper published a report listing actions taken against journalists in the last four weeks. They included three cases of journalists being detained by security forces, nine cases of journalists being interrogated by prosecution authorities, three cases of journalists being prevented from covering events and three cases of physical and/or verbal abuse.

Two weeks ago privately-owned Al-Dostour newspaper said security forces had fabricated charges against one of its employees. The journalist, says Al-Dostour, was maliciously charged with the possession of drugs and weapons, theft, forgery and bribery after he had published stories documenting police violations against civilians.

According to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression 44 reporters were arrested in 2014. The security apparatus is notorious for its excessive use of violence. Local and international rights organisations have repeatedly called an overhaul in police practices.

General Farouk Al-Merghani, a former assistant interior minister, claims abuses within the security apparatus are limited.

“Infringements are committed by individuals but when you compare the number with the total number of police officers it is minimal,” Al-Merghani told Al-Mehwar channel last week. “The ministry includes 385 main police stations and 1400 secondary ones. Violations committed by individuals cannot be used to condemn the entire ministry.”

Earlier this month, in an attempt to calm public concern, the Interior Ministry for the first time set up telephone lines for citizens to report any abuses they have faced. The telephone numbers allocated for complaints are 01126977444, 01126977333 and 01126977222.

A radical overhaul of the Interior Ministry was one of the demands made in the wake of the 25 January Revolution.

“It is not so much restructuring that is necessary but a development of the ministry’s work and performance. This development can only be achieved by paying far more attention to the human element in the ministry’s work. Education and training programmes, as well as psychological support, are urgently needed, and the workday needs to be reduced from a twelve to an eight hour shift,” says Al-Borai.

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