Friday,17 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Friday,17 August, 2018
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

NCHR requests police station visits

The National Council for Human Rights wants to include police stations in its inspection schedule, reports Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) has, for the first time, requested permission from the Interior Ministry to include detention cells at police stations in its schedule of inspection visits.

“We hope they [the Interior Ministry] agree to the request,” NCHR member George Ishak told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The NCHR is seeking to inspect an average of two police stations each week. Ishak said the council has also requested to visit prisons outside Cairo, including in Minya and Qena, Port Said and in Banha, Tanta and Mahalla. “We want to visit two prisons each month, and be granted proper access to prisoners and their cells,” said Ishak.

Among the most notorious police stations NCHR has requested to visit is northern Cairo’s Matariya. In February 2015, lawyer Karim Hamdi was tortured to death by two National Security officers inside Matariya police station. The forensic report on Hamdi revealed broken ribs and showed he had been repeatedly electrocuted on his tongue and genitals. Two police officers were sentenced to five years imprisonment in December for torturing Hamdi. They are currently appealing the verdict.

Matariya, Imbaba, Ain Shams and Al-Salam police stations have all reported deaths of detainees in the last two years. In November, the death of Talaat Shabib while he was being held in a Luxor police station sparked large demonstrations. In an attempt to calm public outrage in Luxor, four officers and five policemen were referred to trial.

Al-Nadim Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture reported 137 deaths inside places of detention in 2015. Of the total, 81 cases were allegedly a result of medical neglect and 39 detainees are thought to have died as a result of torture. Seven deaths occurred at Matariya police station, nine at Al-Wadi Al-Gadid prison and five at Tora’s Aqrab Prison.

In the same report, Al-Nadim listed 700 cases of torture, 267 of them inside police stations, 241 in prisons, 97 at the headquarters of the National Security Department, and 26 in Central Security Force camps.

The Interior Ministry’s default response is to deny all reports of torture.

Human rights organisations have repeatedly pointed out that police stations and prisons have become dangerously overcrowded in the last two years, largely as a result of the ongoing confrontation between police and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood group.

Independent local and international human rights organisations estimate that between 30,000 and 40,000 people have been detained since the removal of Mohamed Morsi as president on 3 July 2013.

The Interior Ministry, which does not publish figures on the number of detainees, says the estimates are fabricated. In September 2015 then-prime minister Ibrahim Mehleb told talk show host Hamdi Rizk that no more than 8,000 people had been detained.

The Interior Ministry does concede, however, that police stations, where suspects are theoretically held only temporarily, are overcrowded, and claims it is improving conditions by providing air conditioners and better medical care. Officials have also announced plans to build new prisons to absorb the growing number of inmates.

Members of the NCHR are appointed by the president. They have been regularly criticised by independent human rights groups for kowtowing to the government and covering up violations that occur inside places of detention. The council says it is doing its best to monitor any violations and has no choice but to work under the regulations enforced by an uncooperative Interior Ministry.

The NCHR cannot, for example, make surprise visits to prisons or other places of detention. It must request permission to visit well in advance. Even when permission is granted, prison authorities are under no obligation to allow council members to interview named prisoners or visit cells.

Last year the NCHR faced sharp criticism when Hafez Abu Seada, one of its members and the director of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, praised conditions at the notorious Aqrab Prison and was photographed tasting meals beings prepared for prisoners.

When, following reports on deteriorating conditions, a second delegation revisited the same prison in January, NCHR member Ragia Omran was denied entry on the grounds her name was not presented to the prison authorities in advance. Aqrab, a high-security facility, is where many Muslim Brotherhood leaders are held.

The prison authorities, claiming they could not guarantee the delegation’s safety, did not allow the NCHR members it did admit to visit prison cells. Nor were they allowed to meet prisoners whose health was reported to be deteriorating. High-profile Muslim Brotherhood detainees also refused to meet with the delegation, accusing its members of being “stooges of the military coup”.

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