As celebrations got underway for the third anniversary of Egypt’s uprising against the rule of Hosni Mubarak, elsewhere across the country security forces also sought to prevent anti-government gatherings, breaking-up marches and rounding up hundreds of protesters and bystanders.
The scale of arrests was staggering. More than 1,000 people were arrested in a single day according to the Interior Ministry. At least 64 people were killed and hundreds injured in the violence that broke out as security forces tried to clear the protests.
Eyewitnesses and former detainees have described to Amnesty International the beatings and ill-treatment they suffered at the hands of the security forces on 25 January.
Beatings in detention
One protester in Cairo told how demonstrators, including girls and women, were beaten upon arrest after security forces fired live rounds in the air. They were then shoved inside a microbus to be driven to a nearby police station where further beatings followed.
“I noticed that the walls of the cell were smeared with blood….I was beaten so hard that I was thrown from one side of the room to the other. I was slapped on my face, beaten on my head and cursed for criticizing the police and army...One of the girls told me later that the officer took off his shoes and beat her all over her body and on her face with them,” the released protester said.
At the police station the protester said the arrested men were blindfolded and beaten all over their bodies and on their faces. Several detainees, including children, were beaten so badly they were unable to walk. One man was bleeding from the head. Another detainee’s clothes were ripped to shreds.
Despite being found carrying banners and flyers inscribed with slogans against both the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, the protester has been accused of belonging to a banned group – a charge faced by many perceived supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Others told Amnesty International that they had witnessed detainees being given electric shocks.
It was not only adults who found themselves targeted by the security forces that day. For 15-year-old Samar – not her real name- the day of the third anniversary rapidly evolved into a nightmare. She was seized in downtown Cairo by a pro-government group, including women, who beat and dragged her along the ground ripping her clothes, before handing her to the police. The police accused her of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or the 6 April Youth Movement, before letting her go.
But her ordeal was not over yet. Shortly afterwards she was stopped again by two soldiers, who detained her because they found a gas mask and a first aid kit when they searched her bag.
She said she was taken to a military building and held alongside male detainees in an outdoor space.
“They made the men strip down to their underwear, blindfolded them, forced them to kneel and then used a sort of electric black taser to shock them on the shoulders and backs,” she said.
Samar was held there for two days before being released.
Lawyers complained to Amnesty International that public prosecutors had also refused to refer detainees to the forensics department for further examinations alleging that their injuries were “minor”.
Access to lawyers
Several lawyers also told Amnesty International that they had been denied access to a number of detention facilities including a Central Security Forces (CSF) Camp on the Cairo-Alexandria desert road.
Others said that they were intimidated by security forces and even threatened at gunpoint. Those who managed to gain access, including to the Tora CSF Camp, where at least 228 detainees were held, confirmed that they had seen several detainees with visible bruises on their faces and other parts of the body. Lawyers also said that by the time they were allowed in the camp most investigations had already taken place in their absence.
Amr Imam, a lawyer with the Front to Defend Egypt Protesters and the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, was threatened at gunpoint by a man in a black uniform when he asked to see a group of detainees being held at Maadi Police Station, he told Amnesty International. He was struck in the chest with a rifle-butt. When he protested the man raised his machine gun and pointed it at him. Other members of the security forces followed suit. They threatened to shoot after counting to 10 if he did not leave.
Many detainees were also interrogated inside police stations and riot police [CSF] camps without access to lawyers – a clear violation of Egyptian and international law.
Amnesty International fears that many of the men, women and children arrested were merely exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly or were bystanders.
Among those arrested are individuals sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, members of the 6 April Youth Movement, as well as independent activists. As in previous cases in the aftermath of Mohamed Morsi’s removal they face a long list of identical charges ranging from murder to hampering traffic. No material evidence is presented by the public prosecution to link individual suspects to specific crimes and little effort is made to establish individual criminal responsibility.
One protester told Amnesty International that he was only freed after he declared his support for the Minister of Defence, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Three years ago many of those who took to the streets during the Egyptian uprising did so to express their anger at police abuse and brutality which had become routine in Mubarak’s Egypt.
Today the space for dissent and legitimate protests is rapidly disappearing.
While a handful of those arrested on 25 January this year have been released on bail, the vast majority remain in detention pending investigations.
As the scope of repression across the country continues to expand unabated, the hopes of freedom and justice are becoming more elusive. Questions also remain about how the upcoming presidential and legislative elections will proceed in a climate where differences of opinion are not tolerated.