The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged torture
The last report from Egypt's El Nadeem Center

The El Nadeem Center is an extraordinary Egyptian NGO that documents police torture and counsels its victims. After a long period of groundless legal harassment, the center has now been forcibly closed by security forces. Just a few weeks ago it issued the following statement, alongside its annual report on torture -- which as its authors note is culled from media reports and statement on social media, and therefore under-estimates the phenomenon.   

"We release this Archive on the 6th anniversary of the 25th of January revolution, when the so called Police-Day turned into a day of revolution against that same police force and against all the atrocities it committed and continues to commit. We have no doubt that the news items we have managed to collect from the various media channels are but the tip of the iceberg.. below the surface or out of our reach and that of the media are many more crimes which we failed to access news about. For that we apologize for the people afflicted by them.

This archive begins with some official quotes made during 2016, beginning from the head of state to one of its main media spokespersons.. Most of which are quotes that deny and condemn those who oppose that denial.. According to those officials Egypt lives its best democratic eras, its prisons are akin to hotels to the extent that prisoners sometimes do not want to be released.. talk about forced disappearance is a lie that targets to defame Egypt's image in front of the work.. No torture is practiced in prisons or police stations.. and detainees are receiving the best medical care!!!

This media archive testifies to the opposite. The archive does not include testimonies taken by doctors working at El Nadim clinic, but includes only testimonies published on the various media channels, including social media. At the end of each testimony there is a link to the original publication for whoever would like to check.

We have classified statistics into killing (extrajudicial, although we oppose all killing even if ordained by law), death in detention, individual torture, collective maltreatment and torture, medical neglect in detention, forced disappearance, reappearance and finally acts of state violence outside places of detention.

Although we believe that every case of forced disappearance is most likely a victim of torture (for why else would security forces would deprive a detainee from every contact with the outside world if not to seize confessions under duress) the listed number of torture cases does not include those who have disappeared unless they have spoken about their torture after reappearing. In addition, we have also published the numbers of those who have reappeared according to the collected news. All of them reappeared in state institutions, none in Syria or with ISIS, as some claim.

The archive also has sections of letters sent from prisons, testimonies of former detainees as well as testimonies of their families during their time of detention. Those sections, we believe are the most valuable part of this archive. They testify to an era as well as to the resilience of individuals who, although deprived of their freedom, hold on to their humanity and belief in human values and solidarity.

2016 was a heavy year. At about this time in 2015 El Nadim released its 2015 archives of oppression, upon which the government made two attempts at its closure.. the only clinic - unfortunately - that provides psychological help to survivors of violence and torture. Some state institutions, in Egypt as well as some of our embassies abroad, claimed that the clinic is closed and that it no longer received clients. Despite the heaviness of the year and the challenges facing El Nadim and other civil society organizations and especially human rights organizations, we assure our constituency and supporters that the clinic has not closed, not for a single day. As long as there is a need for the service provided by the clinic it will continue providing it, even if it is forced to take other formulas and continue receiving survivors of violence and torture. Until then 3A Soliman el Halabi street, 2nd floor remains open.

This archive is not produced by the clinic. It is produced by an independent Egyptian NGO, El Nadim.

Let us hope that 2017 be more merciful to us all. "

PostsUrsula Lindseyegypt, torture
Watching Cheney: He’s Got Nothing

Andrew Sullivan on Dick Cheney's defense of torture:

To put it more bluntly, Cheney’s response is unhinged. It is suffused with indiscriminate rage which is indifferent to such standards as whether the prisoner is innocent or guilty, or even if he should be in a prison at all. He is acting out a revenge fantasy, no doubt fueled in part by the understanding that 3,000 Americans lost their lives because he failed to prevent it – when the facts were lying there in the existing surveillance and intelligence system and somehow never got put together.

What we have here is a staggering thing: the second highest official in a democracy, proud and unrepentant of war crimes targeted at hundreds of prisoners, equating every single one of the prisoners – including those who were victims of mistaken identity, including American citizens reading satirical websites, including countless who had nothing to do with any attacks on the US at all – with the nineteen plotters of one terror attack. We have a man who, upon being presented with a meticulous set of documents and facts, brags of not reading them and who continues to say things that are definitively disproved in the report by CIA documents themselves.

This is a man who not only broke the law and the basic norms of Western civilization, but who celebrates that. If this man is not brought to justice, the whole idea of justice in this country is a joke.

AsidesThe Editorscheney, CIA, torture
Please spread the word

Getting emails like this -- and knowing this is hardly newsworthy in Egypt, and this death like so many others will not get the attention or indignation it deserves  -- is the sickening part of being a journalist.  

Hasan is a 15 yo student that was detained on the past 15th of August driven to Al Bastin Police station where he was bing tortured systematically since then till his death today, here is the number of his relative Ayman :+ ………….

Please spread the word as it will help in stopping Human Rights violations here in Egypt.

Best Regards,

M Mourad

UPDATE: According to Human Rights Watch, the person in question died during a Rabaa anniversary protest, not in a police station. Not that either death is warranted, or that deaths in custody are uncommon

30,000 trafficked in Sinai

A guest post from contributor Parastou Hassouri, who lives in Cairo, works in the field of international refugee law, and specializes in issues of gender and migration.

Photo of central Sinai courtesy of Shutterstock

Photo of central Sinai courtesy of Shutterstock

On Wednesday night, the report The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond, was launched in Cairo (it was launched simultaneously in several other cities including Tel Aviv, Brussels, and Lampedusa). The 238-page report is based on interviews with 230 trafficking survivors:  persons who survived the hellish ordeal of being kidnapped, held hostage and tortured brutally in the Sinai. It is a follow-up to a 2012 report, Human Trafficking in the Sinai: Refugees between Life and Death

I was first alerted to the issue of human smuggling and trafficking in the Sinai around 2007.  At the time, I was working at the NGO Africa Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA).  The issue most often came up when we had to assist those who had been apprehended trying to reach the Sinai (and would be detained by Egyptian authorities, even if they were registered with the UNHCR as refugees). Back then, most of the cases we dealt with involved refugees who were voluntarily crossing the Sinai in hopes of reaching Israel, where they expected to find more work opportunities and perhaps an easier way of reaching Europe. Our biggest concern was the fact that Egyptian authorities in the Sinai were using lethal force to stop this “irregular migration,” which had resulted in numerous fatalities. There was a belief, at the time, that the Egyptian authorities were only responding to pressure being placed upon them by Israelis to stem the flow of migrants. I remember spending a lot of time advising clients against making the journey, telling them the risks were not worth it (especially as so many of them faced detention once in Israel anyway).

Over the course of months, we started to hear about situations involving hostage taking: that the smugglers who had promised to take the refugees, asylum seekers or other migrants to the Sinai would inform them mid-trip that they were being kept hostage until they could pay them more money than initially demanded.  However, the situation was one that still started out “voluntarily”:  the migrants were choosing to undertake the journey, despite the risks. The numbers choosing this route seemed to increase as the number of refugees being resettled to third countries (i.e. the U.S. and Canada) declined (this started during a period when the resettlement of Iraqis had taken priority for political reasons).The people going were from different countries:  Sudan, Ethiopia, and often Eritrea. I once assisted two men from the Ivory Coast who had been detained after being abandoned by their smuggler, when he realized he had no chance of getting more money out of them. Looking at the turn things have taken, those men are lucky they lived. 

In the years since, the human trafficking networks appear to have gotten more extensive and definitely more brutal. 

Although there are still cases of smuggling that have turned into involuntary imprisonment, there has been an alarming rise in the number of cases that start out as kidnapping. The victims are actually abducted and forcibly transported to the Sinai – sometimes the abduction takes place in Sudan, especially in Eastern Sudan near the Shagarab refugee camp. The authors of the report also interviewed individuals who were kidnapped within Eritrea.    

According to the authors, between 2007 and 2013, some 25,000 to 30,000 persons have been trafficked in the Sinai.

The other thing that astounded me was the amount of money the kidnappers are now demanding in ransom.  In some cases, ransoms of 30,000 and 40,000 US dollars are being demanded.  Again, the authors estimate that some 600 million US dollars have been collected in ransom by traffickers over the past several years.

The prime targets for these kidnappings are Eritreans (and most of the survivors interviewed were Eritrean). The authors posit several reasons for this.  First, the kidnappers choose Eritreans because the extensive Eritrean diaspora makes it more likely that the victim has relatives abroad who have the financial means to pay the ransom. The authors believe that another reason for this is the involvement of some Eritrean authorities and military officials in the trafficking network (especially given that some of these abductions are happening inside Eritrea). 

The victims are transported from Eritrea to Sudan, and then taken by boat to Egypt, where they are handed off to others who bring them to Sinai and hold them hostage until ransom is collected. Some are held hostage in “torture houses” that seem to have been specifically constructed for this purpose – for example, they feature hooks on the ceilings from which the kidnapped are hung as they are beaten.

Those who are able to pay their ransom are released. Many who are unable to are either shot, or tortured and left with no medical treatment until they die. 

The launch of the report included some readings of testimonies from trafficking survivors, who recounted in gruesome details the torture to which they are subjected while held hostage. The traffickers sometimes place calls to their relatives as they torture them, in an effort to make sure the ransom is paid. The tortures include beatings, burning of the skin, electrocution, and sexual violence. 

Some of these trafficking survivors had initially thought about attending the launch to testify about their experience in person. However, at the launch, we were informed that the survivors were concerned about their safety, since even those who are now in Cairo live in fear of their traffickers. There were also reports that there were concerns about Egyptian state security. 

Instead of testifying in person, parts of their testimony were read. Also, we were shown one video of a survivor’s testimony (although the person’s face had been obscured).

Ahmed About Deraa, a reporter from the Sinai who has been following the situation, also attended the launch. He showed several extremely graphic photographs and some film footage showing some of the survivors bearing terrible scars and disfigurements caused by the torture. 

Abou Deraa spoke of the efforts of one local Sheikh, someone he referred to as Sheikh Mohammed, who has been trying to assist some of the persons who either manage to escape or are let go after ransom is collected. 

He also spoke a bit about the situation since June 30, 2013.  According to Abou Deraa, the military operations taking place in the Sinai since June 30th have led to the army raiding some of the “torture houses” and to the release of some of the kidnapped. Unfortunately, the people who have been “saved” are simply put into detention and charged with “illegal entry” into Egypt.  Apparently, approximately 144 such individuals are currently in detention in Egypt. The Egyptian authorities want to repatriate them back to Eritrea, but expects the kidnapped to pay for their tickets back. 

Although Abou Deraa seemed to think that there have been fewer cases of kidnapping and hostage taking since 30 June, 2013, those presenting the report seemed to think that the current situation in the Sinai may simply pushing kidnappers to use different routes. 

Lastly, even for those who are released by the kidnappers or somehow manage to escape on their own, the situation remains dire. They can try to reach Israel, which is quite difficult in light of the fence the Israelis have constructed. Once inside Israel, the migrants are subjected to the Anti-Infiltration Law which means months of detention. 

The other option is to come to Cairo, where the survivors continue to live in fear of the traffickers/kidnappers (some report getting threatening phone calls from them), and where the limited opportunities to work or study, combined with xenophobic attitudes (heightened since 30 June) and racism, make life very difficult. 

Also, these young men and women are suffering from extreme trauma, and though some are receiving some psychological counseling and support, the scale of abuse is great and the resources in Cairo are limited. 

Technically, as survivors of torture, refugees who have been kidnapped and held hostage in the Sinai should be prioritized for resettlement to third countries. The UNHCR does refer some of these cases for resettlement, but the process of resettlement is cumbersome and lengthy. Resettlement to the United States, for example, can take more than a year.

The situation described above has been going on for a number of years. It seems hard to believe that abuse of this scale can be happening with nothing really being done to address it. It seems especially hard to comprehend this, considering that some of the traffickers are identified by name in the report, that millions of dollars are being wired and exchanging hands, and that calls are being made to relatives and being received by the refugees from the traffickers. It seems like the authorities could identify and arrest at least some of the agents involved in this vicious and brutal cycle, if the political will to do something existed. It seems hard to believe that people could be kidnapped from Eritrea, taken through the Sudan and into Egypt – three countries with extensive state security networks – without any sort of detection. 

In fact, the horror of the situation is such that there was an element of incredulity on the part of some in the audience. The report was presented to a fairly large audience, most of whom were foreigners, but which included some Egyptians. As far as I noticed, the only people who asked questions tinged with skepticism were Egyptians. 

In response to one survivor’s testimony of being harassed by Egyptians in Cairo, one young man asked, almost incredulously, why an Eritrean would be harassed by Egyptians? He even said something like: “Are they wearing particular costumes that are making them stand out?” He could not bring himself to believe that the man’s foreignness and skin color would subject someone to taunts in Egypt. 

Some wondered how it could be that people were being kidnapped across borders and into the Sinai with all its checkpoints without the authorities stopping it. 

Indeed, the more one learns about the situation, the more convinced one becomes that the situation must be taking place with the complicity of officials. The report itself suggests that at least in Eritrea, military officials themselves have been implicated in the trafficking.

The launch was attended by some Egyptian journalists. One can only hope that media coverage of the issue in Egyptian papers (which so far has been virtually nonexistent) will bring more attention to the issue (and help also in countering attitudes of incredulity towards the problem).

Given recent events in Egypt, the political uncertainty and turmoil, the economic problems, people’s concern about increasing insecurity, it seems like the issue of the trafficking of African migrants across the Sinai is the last thing some may want to hear about. 

But horror of this scale cannot go on, and no one in Egypt should be unaware that it is happening. 











Police brutality (part 2)

Also published in El Shorouk this week is this horrifying, familiar account of torture by a journalist working for the satellite channel MBC, Islam Fathi, whose ordeal began -- as they often seem to -- when he got into an argument with an officer while trying to approach the site of an explosion in Minya. The piece is too long for me to translate entirely, but here is a sample. After he has been beaten and subjected to a torture called "the bag" that involves tying together and suspending the prisoner from his handcuffed hands and feet:   

As I was hanging there all night I saw the legs of soldiers and officers coming in and out to beat me. I even saw a woman dressed in black, she must have worked in the station, because she made them tea -- she also joined them in beating me, and said to them: ‘Beat him some more, he’s not getting out of here alive.’
Then soldiers took Islam to a cell and ordered him to face the wall. After two hours the door opened and another high-up officer who said: ‘So you’re the one acting like a big man?’and he was taken back to the room for another torture session.
The officer was hitting me himself and said to me: ‘Say: I’m this…I’m that.’

After all this, the officer he had an argument with asks Islam: "Have you learned your lesson now?" He is charged with attacking the authorities (the charges are dropped when he says he will not contest them in any way) and a nearby hospital refuses to document his torture. Eventually he goes to another hospital; files charges; and goes to the press. He tells Shorouk: "If they did this to me for no reason, knowing I'm a journalist, what might happen to poor, simple people?"