The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

When torture rules

Gamal 3eid--one of Sharqawi's lawyers, and director of HRinfo--reflected on Sharqawi's case in a very moving statement.
Mohammed El-Sharkawi is proof of the crime of Mubarak's regime
"It's either me or the Muslim Brotherhood… I might not be the best but I am the best of what is available… My alternative is another Algeria … the alternative are the Islamists"
The regime in Egypt used this statement at its best for many long years to extort not only the West but also many secularists and leftists here and there making this statement its justification whenever someone complained of brutal police practices against political activists. This statement is raised before the "democratic" west as if the regime in Egypt has to be oppressive to secure Western interests and maintain a civil state and protect it from the threat of Islamists.There are nearly 15 thousand political prisoners in Egyptian prisons. Many are co-opting against them as the justification is ready and logical. They are extremist Islamists. Who cares about them?

Systematic torture is practiced against political opponents and citizens. Yet, the state denies it, claiming that such assertions are just lies. The Egyptian Judiciary, the state argues, is independent. We mean here by judiciary, the public prosecutor, whose main function is to act as a filter preventing the voices of victims from reaching the courts.

The torture of Mohammed El-Sharkawi came within this context.

El-Sharkawi came from Kafr El-Sheikh, one of Delta's cities, to study in Cairo. As a student of media he followed the press and movements, such as Kifaya and others, calling for reform and democracy in Egypt.

As thousands of youth who know how to use the computer, he aspired to establish his own website where he can post his thoughts and grieves as a poor young man who sees that he has ideas that deserve to be read by others. He established a blog and called it "Speak Freely". His blog helped him get into the circle of the Egyptian young bloggers - who are group of youth that do not belong to any political party or group. They are normal youths. They browse the Internet, watch football and listen to singers, but they also dream of a better Egypt void of corruption and oppression. That pushed them to stand in solidarity with the judges' movement; a movement described by one of the bloggers as "a strong ship in a stormy sea of corruption and oppression".

El-Sharkawi was unique. He was naïve and lacked political experience. He was unique because he wanted to befriend everyone. He was genuinely active in demonstrations supporting the judges; a trait that everyone noticed about him. This honesty and activeness was also sensed by political police who hid in civil clothes.

El-Sharkawi, that innocent, enthusiastic, rural poor young man, was no member of a political party. He was not a well known journalist and he was no son of an important individual. Mohammed El-Sharkawi was an easy prey for the executioners to target as no one would care about him.

He was arrested on 24 April 2006 amongst a group of youth and was detained for a month to be punished for his support of judges.

Because his beliefs were not false and because his life in prison was not that different from his life, as a poor young man, outside of it, he walked out of his prison a month later and nothing has changed. The judges were still fighting for their just cause and journalism - a profession he dreamed to work for - was still fighting for its freedom. His support to them - like thousand and millions in Egypt - continued.

Two days after his release, El-Sharkawi appeared in a small demonstration in front of the Egyptian Press Syndicate. There he praised his friends and colleagues and assured them of his welfare before his plans to travel to see his ill-stricken mother who did not know at that time that he was released.

The political police also saw him. In their eyes, El-Sharkawi's presence in a demonstration was a major crime especially that they have warned him from participating in any other event or even getting close to the Press Syndicate. Accordingly, they saw that he deserved to be punished.

This young poor man, who does not enjoy the protection of a party, newspaper, or a senior member of society, should be punished severely. No one will care for he is just a number amongst thousands of forgotten others who have fallen victim to police brutality. It is not worth it to take him to the state security slaughterhouse in Lazoughly or Gaber Bin Hayan. He is not even worth using torture methods that bring about sever pain yet leave no mark. These are all expensive methods and are only used with political opponents who have a price in the society.

Any slaughterhouse; any police station would fulfill the goal …

El-Sharkawi was kidnapped off the streets of Cairo. The executioners did not even wait until they took him to Kasr El Nil police station, a station close to the syndicate. Thy started to torture him in the street … Who will care, they thought. This is an accustomed and natural scene in Egypt. Torturing El-Sharkawi will not anger anyone for he is a simple young man. There is no need to bring an expert from state security. Criminal policemen can handle his punishment.

Because police stations use traditional torture methods - as most of victims of torture are simple citizens who do not know the way to human rights organizations or independent newspapers - these police stations do not care if marks of torture show especially that victims will find it impossible to prove the crime against any policeman and particularly in light of the co-option of the public prosecutor.

Police officers in Kasr El Nil police stations followed the recommendations they received from state security to punish this young man who dared attend a demonstration despite warnings to not do so. El-Sharkawi was tortured with sincerity. Police officers wanted to leave evidence of their loyalty in torturing him so they left his body full of marks and bruises to witness their sincerity in doing their work. His lips were cut, his eyes were swollen, his clothes were torn, his chest was full of shoe marks, his neck was bruised, and his underwear was missing and no one cared to return it.

I think El-Sharkawi's re-detention was not planned for. The aim was to punish him. However, the state security prosecutor had another opinion. Some lawyers have seen El-Sharkawi and are creating a fuss about him being tortured. A small amendment is then needed. El-Sharkawi should be detained until marks of torture disappear. His psychological status is of no importance and no one can claim that he was tortured.

The situation was meant to end at that point but the reasons that made the police torture El-Sharkawi in this manner are the same reasons that made all those who have a clear conscience to reject this crime.

El-Sharkawi is not accused of terrorism or extremism. El-Sharkawi was neither a communist nor an austere Nasserist. El-Sharkawi is a simple young man who loves Egypt and loves to express his views. No one can provide any justification for this crime; a crime of torturing a young man in such a brutal manner simply because he is poor and has no back.

The pretenses of Mubarak's regime did not succeed this time. The scandal was completed. The lies and denials of the ministry of interior have gone with the wind. Assertions made by tabloids that claim that they respect the law in Egypt are no longer worth the ink on the paper.

Yet, the minister of interior did not resign.

In Egypt, no official resigns if a crime is committed against the right of the citizens.

In Egypt, an official is forced to leave only when he/she anger the government.

The government is the policies committee.

The policies committee is a just one person.

That person does not care about citizens.

The crime remained.

El-Sharkawi's torture remains to reveal the lies and oppression of Mubark's regime and the co-option of the state security prosecutor.

Gamal Abdel Aziz Eid
Lawyer and Executive Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo)