Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

MPs take police by surprise

Parliament’s Human Rights Committee is visiting police stations where torture has been reported, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Members of parliament’s Human Rights Committee are visiting police stations and prisons in four governorates.

Alaa Abed, head of the committee, told reporters the visits reflect the committee’s role in ensuring human rights are observed in police stations and prison cells.

“The visits focused on police stations and prison cells where incidents of torture have been reported,” he said.

The visiting delegation included MPs Margaret Azer, Manal Maher, Abu Bakr Gharib, Hayam Halawa, Ahmed Youssef and Abu Sobhi Al-Dali.

Azer told Al-Ahram Weekly the visits began on 19 September with Greater Cairo’s Al-Warraq district police station.

“There were violent clashes between the residents of Al-Warraq and policemen two months ago. We wanted to make sure people detained following the clashes were being treated properly,” said Azer.

MPs also visited prison cells in the Giza districts of Imbaba and Omraneya and the North Cairo district of Road Al-Farag.

“We met with police officers, looked at prison cells and listened to inmates,” said Azer.

One goal of the visits, she added, is to make sure inmates are in custody pending trial and “no one is being held without reason.”

According to Azer, the visits will soon be expanded to include orphanages.

“Reports from the media and independent lawyers claim that abuses are taking place in some orphanages and child care centres. We want to assess the situation for ourselves,” said Azer.

Visits to police stations began last year and have already resulted in greater discipline among those responsible for detainees, claims Abed.

“Following a visit to East Cairo’s Al-Amereya police station last year a police officer suspected of torturing a Christian citizen was referred to trial,” says the head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee. “The committee also visited Fayoum prison in Upper Egypt after incidents of torture were reported.”

“These are surprise visits to police stations, conducted without prior notice,” says Abed, “whereas visits to prisons can only be undertaken with prior permission from the Interior Ministry.”

The most recent visits have been to police stations in densely populated districts of Cairo and Giza and future inspections are planned for Alexandria and Assiut.

According to Abed, the committee wants to send a message that MPs are closely monitoring the performance of police officers and respect of human rights.

Abed, a former police officer who now serves as parliamentary spokesman of the Free Egyptians Party, told reporters the committee is planning a number of overseas trips to defend Egypt’s human rights record.

“We will go to New York, Washington, Geneva and Brussels to meet human rights organisations based in these cities and meet officials to present a detailed response to the recent New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) report in which alleged torture has become a systematic practice in Egypt.”

During these foreign trips MPs will hold meetings with the European Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and human rights parliamentary committees in Italy, Germany and the UK.

“We have friendship associations with MPs in these countries and will use them to present the facts about human rights in Egypt.”

The House of Representatives has already filed a complaint against HRW with the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union. “In its politicised report HRW claimed the Human Rights Committee is being manipulated by Egypt’s security forces. We have asked the Inter-Parliamentary Union to open an investigation into this allegation.”

“HRW receives $250 million in funding every year, with most of the money coming from Qatar and Muslim Brotherhood offices in Turkey and some European capitals,” claimed Abed.

In a 20 September committee meeting Abed said “while HRW issues politicised and flawed reports it is unfortunate that those responsible for observing human rights in Egypt still work in isolation from one another.”

“There must be greater coordination among local human rights organisations when it comes to responding to HRW reports.”

“Last week the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad met with Kenneth Roth, the director of the Human Right Watch, in New York,” points out Abed. “Tamim was the only head of state Roth met with on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, evidence of the closeness of HRW’s relationship between Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.”

MP Khaled Shaaban said it was regrettable the committee only decided to pay visits to police stations and prisons after HWR issued its report.

“HRW reports are undoubtedly politicised. But the fact is the committee should be undertaking these visits on a regular basis. The government should also be willing to cooperate with local human rights organisations to formulate a response to HRW reports,” argued Shaaban.

Human rights activist Nehad Abul-Komsan believes the best way forward is to create “a ministry of human rights to coordinate between parliament, the government, the National Council for Human Rights and local activists in responding to Western human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and HRW.”

Al-Ahram political analyst Hala Mustafa argues “the new NGO law, which triggered angry reactions in American circles, should be amended to address the concern it puts obstacles in the way of forming independent civil society organisations.”

Sobhi Al-Dali, deputy chairman of the committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly “the committee’s visits to police have shown police officers are well aware that torture is a crime”.

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