Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Sad Tale of Egyptian Justice

Human Rights activists are pointing to a sad story related to the tragic Beni Mazar massacre. The story underscores the strange and conflicting logic of much of Egyptian justice.

The massacre was a horrible one. In December 2005, 10 people, including infants, were killed and mutilated. Police arrested Mohamed Ali, but when the case came to trial, the evidence there was insufficient to convict him. Here is some background on the case. In fact the evidence was that Mohamed Ali was a scapegoat. So, it's a credit to the long-standing independence of the Egyptian judiciary that they refused to railroad a man just because of the brutality of the crime.

But Ali's trial didn't end there. He and his family was placed under house arrest, forced to move to another village, and essentially forced into poverty. Allegedly he was put under house arrest to protect his family from reprisals from victims' family members. But this past October, a number of human rights groups in Egypt raised concerns about the continuing harassment of the family by authorities. Click here for more.

The situation hasn't changed. Today groups released a statement reasserting their claims and concerns. One of the groups signing the statement is the El Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Domestic Violence.

"Mohamed's family, consisting of 22 individuals including children, women, elderly and young men have been under forced house arrest in two narrow rooms in the village of Bani Hagr by order of the police. The place lacks all the necessities for a normal life. It does not for example have a toilet, forcing the family to use a hole in the ground," the statement said.

"The children, six in number, have not been going to their schools, since the family is prevented from leaving the place. The two older daughters are hosted by another family in another village in view of the lack of space.

"In addition to these inhumane conditions, none of the family's men has a job at present after Haj Ali was forced by the police to sell his land and house to the families of the victims very early on in the case, before the court ruled Mohamed to be innocent. A small shop owned by the family in Beni Mazar was closed since the police prevent any of the family members to return to their village."

Having worked on capital punishment cases in the United States, I've been able to see examples of innocent people who have to struggle to return to normalcy after being released from jail for crimes they didn't commit. In Egypt, it's made even worse by a system that allows for arbitrary and capricious. .

Friday, January 26, 2007

Update on Trial of Blogger Kareem Amer

The trial of Kareem Amer, accused of insulting Islam and other charges for his work on the blog, started Jan. 25. The short hearing was adjourned afterwards until Feb. 1.

The trial is attracting the attention of democracy and human rights activists and the international media. Amnesty has previously expressed concern about the trial. Click here for my previous postings on the case.

According to Egyptian activists, the judge was surprised to find a big number of interested people in Kareem's trial. The opening motions concerned the venue and owner of the site that publishes Kareem's blog. This is important, because under Egyptian law, if the blog is published outside of Egypt, Kareem could not be charged on the defamation charges. (Although I suspect either the judge will overlook that or other charges could be brought against him.)

But one of the most interesting moments of the trial, according to witnesses, was following these motions, a man started speaking outloud saying he would bring a "hesba" lawsuit against Kareem. Under Islamic law, anyone can bring a hisba lawsuit if they believe God has been insulted. Two most recent famous "hesba" cases involve a suit against Nasr Abu Zayd, a noted scholar of Islam, and Nawal el-Saadawi. In the latter case, the person claimed that Nawal was a heretic and therefore her husband could not be legally married to her under Islamic law and should be forced to divorce her.

According to the witness, "The man was so emotional. He spoke in a loud voice. He introduced himself as a lawyer. He said he came to stand by Islam for its victory. He recited some parts of Quaran about those who fight against Allah and his profit Mohamed who should have their hands and legs cut. He meant Kareem."

The man was later identified in one source as Mohamed Dawoud, who I believe was the same person who brought the hesba case against Nawal el-Saadawi.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Ayman Nour's Deteriorating Health

More than a dozen Egyptian HR groups signed a petition today asking for the release of former presidential candidate Ayman Nour from jail today. The pleasant surprise is that the U.S. State Department added its voice to the chorus.

The Egyptian statement read in part, "On the 18th January 2007, information were received concerning the deterioration of Nour's health conditions after having a catheterization at Al Kasr Al Ainy Hospital. He suffered from bleeding in heart arteries after he was transferred back to Tora Prison. Nour is diabetic and receives medication for bleeding control which eventually led to a bleeding in his eye retina, which may totally damage his optical nerves. He is also suffering from deep venous thrombosis and decaying in the joint of the right leg due to preventing him from moving inside the prison."

Later in the day, State Department spokesman Sean McCormick said, "We have continuing and serious concerns about his medical condition. At the very minimum, he should be given all the medical care that he needs." McCormick added that the Bush administration would ask "for some consideration of" Nour's release.

It's interesting that the State Department mentioned the case publicly considering it was very prominently noted that the secretary of state didn't discuss it publicly during her visit to Egypt last week. But it is the right thing to do, so credit should be given.

In the meantime, the Egyptian groups have continued their work on behalf of Ayman and helping his wife Gameela keep up Ayman's efforts to promote human rights and democracy in Egypt. Ayman Nour remains in Mazraat Tora Prison. He can receive letters of support written to Ayman Nour, Mazraat Tora Prison, Tora, Cairo, EGYPT.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Crackdown time?

Is the Mubarak government starting another campaign of massive detention of political opponents? Six leading human rights organizations in Egypt believe so. The six -- the Egyptian Association against Torture Arab Organization for Criminal Reform, Nadim Center for rehabilitation of victims of violence, Arab network for human rights information, Human Rights Association for Assistance of Prisoners, Hisham Mubarak Law Center Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression and the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid -- issued a statement today asking "Do Egyptian prisons have enough place for 70 million Egyptians?"

The statement notes that the heaviest burden is falling on the Muslim Brothers, but that the campaign isn't limited to Islamists. "If today's detentions involve the brotherhood more than anybody else, we should not forget that yesterday's detentions involved others who supported the judges' movement for the independence of the judiciary, and those who struggle for democracy and against rigged elections and the constitutional changes which ensure the maintenance of the state of emergency and torture. ...

"And away from the circles of politics, the Egyptian ministry of Interior used its detention plicy against street children, after the disclosure of the what has come to be known as the "turbine gang" and instead of the Egyptian government bearing its responsibility towards those children who are victims of the existing social and economic conditions, instead of dealing with them as children in danger, the Ministry of Interior chose to treat them as potential causes of danger and organized a campaign to arrest them from the streets and allies to put them in police stations under the mercy of police officers and their assistants.

"Also less than a week ago, Miss Howeida Taha, correspondent of the Qatar-based El Jazeera satellite channel spent two days at the state security prosecution where she was interrogated regarding her coverage of torture stories and citizens' complaints of the bad treatment they receive in police stations. The assistant to the Minister of Interior does not stop threatening Egyptian bloggers concerning what they publish on the net concerning torture crimes.. and the threat of imprisonment continues to follow Egyptian journalists who cross 'the red lines'. Only recently, during the strike of railway drivers, the photographer of El Masry El Yom daily newspaper was threatened by detention because he was doing his job."

Others are taking note. I refer everyone to this week's Economist, which notes the rising dissatisfaction with the slow pace of political and human rights reform. The article is by subscription only, but you can get a snippet here.

Friday, January 19, 2007

More Concerns on Torture:

Torture is done against bad guys, right? We don't torture, but we're not going to talk about our methods. What other myths about torture are we going to keep on having?

Evidence continues to mount that torture, always systemmatic in Egypt, is part of that country's "war on terror." Here is a report received this week about an attack on an alleged member of the Muslim Brotherhood. The report comes from respected Egyptian human rights groups posting on www.misrdigital.com:

"Abdel Megid Abdel Aziz Abdel Megid, known by "Guda" was subject to severe beating and use of electricity on sensitive parts of his body at the state security intelligence headquarters in the city of Kafr El Zayat by the hands of officer "Walid Mohamed Ammar" deputy to the chief stat eintelligence officer at Kafr El Zayat. Guda had been arrested in the early hours of the 16th of Janaury 2007 from his house in the district of Hasiba in the city of Kafr El Zayat, Gharbeyya governorate in the Delta of Egypt.

Guda woke up at about 2 a.m. upon a heavy knocking at his door. As soon as he opened the door the police was all over the house. Guda asked for the prosecutor's permit to search the house, upon which the state security officer reached into his pocket, got out a small piece of paper, which Guda did not read, returned it back into his pocket again and said: "This is the permit. And even if there is no permit, I shall detain you as I wish". The police then took Guda down into the police car, then went up again in arms to search his house causing panic to his wife and children. The police took school books and notebooks of the children, a praying carpet, a computer which was searched by the officer himself at the state security office in violation of the law which states that examination of a computer should be carried out by the technical office upon an order of the prosecution.

As soon as Guda arrived in the state security office in Kafr El Zayat he was beaten, slapped and kicked all over his body by officer Walid Ammar and sergeant Marwan Hashem Abou Aiba. Then Ammar stripped Gouda of all his clothes, forced him to the floor on his back with his hands tied and eyes blindfolded. He then put a chair between his legs and used a baton to pressure sensitive parts of his body. While Guda was screaming of pain, officer Ammar was laughing and saying: "I shall make you lose your manhood totally. You will sleep with your wife with no difference between the two of you!!"

After 20 hours of torture, Guda was referred to the prosecution charged of membership of the Moslem Brotherhood. His file was registered as administrative case no. 710/2007 investigation no. 65 Kafr El Zayat.

Guda's lawyer has filed a complaint to the public prosecutor's officer and the national council for human rights."

If you want to learn more about the case, information is available in Arabic on this website.

Just one comment: The officials allegedly involved here are state security officers. Amnesty has previously expressed concern about torture by security officers, but in past years, we have tried to bring attention to lesser-known but just as prevalent issue of torture in local police stations. You don't have to be involved in politics to be tortured. We hear more about this prominent cases, but the issue is just as important to protect civilians going through their daily chores.

In addition, although a complaint has been filed in the above case, Egypt's record of conducting impartial, public investigations into allegations of torture is poor. Impunity remains an obstacle to justice.

Here are some recent Amnesty actions on torture in Egypt.
Detainees at Risk for Torture in Unknown Locations.
Allegations of Torture of Four Tunisians in Egypt.

Update on the Tunisians

Just one short note on how online actions can promote large actions quickly, the Amnesty online action has brought in more than 1,700 actions in a week. Thanks to everyone who has taken action. Anyone who hasn't, please take a moment to read about the case and respond.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Kareem Amer on trial

Egyptian Blogger Abdul Kareem Nabeil Suleiman, known in the Internet as Kareem Amer, went on trial Jan. 18 in Moharam Bek Misdemeanor Court in Alexandria. The charges were charges of insulting Islam and causing sectarian strife with his Internet writings; the hearing was brief and adjourned at the defense's request to Jan. 25.

Kareem's blog in Arabic can be found here.
Here's Amnesty's past statement on the case. I've written previously about the case several times.

Two things about the case. This isn't the first time Kareem has been in trouble with authorities, but in the past the U.S. has raised concerns about the case. Not this time, despite Secretary's Rice's visit to Egypt this week.

Second, while there is silence from U.S. authorities, within Egypt, activists are rallying to the cause. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information issued a statement calling upon freedom of expression advocators in Egypt and all over the globe to support Kareem Amer in his prospected trial based on biased investigations by the Public Prosecutor.
For more information about this group's work: http://www.hrinfo.net/en/focus/2007/pr0117.shtml

If you want to take action on this case, in the U.S. you should write letters of support for Kareem to the Egyptian ambassador:

Ambassador Nabil Fahmy
Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
3521 International Court N.W.
, Washington, D.C., 20008


One of the ironies of this case, of any case supporting freedom of speech on the Internet in Egypt, is that while President Mubarak has an e-mail account for public comment, it always seems to fail when large number of actions try to use the account. So it's better to write or call the ambassador directly.

Here's what other media and bloggers are saying about the case.

The Washington Post notes that this is just one of a string of harassments of government critics speaking out online.

Here's FreedomforEgyptians blog writing on the case.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bush's legacy and Arab democracy

Secretary of State Rice is in Egypt today, and the New York Times reports one topic not on the agenda is Egyptian democracy. That's sad news, but not surprising.

For all the mistakes made by this president, he deserves credit for being the first American president to seriously confront the possibility of democracy in the Middle East. Jimmy Carter promoted human rights, but his public record is slim in promoting democracy in the region. In fact, as Anwar Sadat became a hero for his peace initiatives, American leaders prominently overlooked his decaying record on the democratic front. And since then all administrations, both Republican and Democrat simply didn't raise the issue in any significant way.

In fact there is a strong tradition in American diplomacy that assumes the region just isn't ready or will ever be ready for democracy.

That is a canard, proven by the many struggles of democracy activists in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, everywhere. There are many reasons why democracy isn't flourishing in the region; but a lack of intellectual and political tradition isn't one of them.

Now Rice's silence suggests the game is up. The president will repeatedly refer to democratic hopes in the region, but it won't extend beyond that. The true tragedy of this is that by attempting to achieve Arab democracy through war in Iraq, he may have actually killed all hope and possibility for democratic change for at least another decade.

There was never any possibility that war in Iraq would bring democracy. The forces of war are simply too strong to bring anything but chaos, except in those rare examples where civil society to strong enough to withstand the war. After decades of Saddam Hussein crushing all facets of civil society other than religion, there was never any hope that this would occur in Iraq. It was a case of the tactics being at odds with the goals.

Whether President Bush ever recognized the democratic potential in the Arab world, whether he actually knew the names of the people who were doing the work he promoted, isn't clear.
But I presume he was sincere in promoting that vision. I look at the region now, and I still see activists maintaining heroic efforts against great obstacles. But more and more they are on the defensive -- defending themselves, defending democracy as a possibility, defending themselves from charges of Western and American influence.

And I fear it won't just be Condi Rice who maintains a silence on Arab democracy. I fear the lesson American politicians will learn is that there is no hope. And if that is the case, then that will be one of the worse legacies of the Bush administration.

Journalist investigating torture in Egypt harassed

A posting from the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information:

"The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo) condemns the investigation with Huweida Taha, Al-Jazeera TV Journalist. Taha is accused of possessing footages documenting torture in Egypt in order to be shown in a TV show by Al-Jazeera. Security forces confiscated the videotapes while Taha was on her way to Doha, Qatar last week.

"State Security Prosecutor convicted Taha, yesterday, with two charges: filming scenes which may harm the national interests of the country, and possessing and transferring false footages which incorrectly describes the situation in Egypt!!

"State Security Prosecutor decided to continue interrogations with Taha today.

"This investigation came as a surprise. It reveals the sharp decline in the stance of Ministry of Interior which previously granted an official license to Taha and offered to help her in the preparation of the abovementioned TV show, according to Al-Jazeera.

"'We cannot find charges similar to those leveled against Huweida Taha in any other country that respects freedom of press and has the minimum of democracy. These accusations are artificial and aim at covering up the crimes of torture widespread in Egypt, which were recently disclosed by the young and courageous Egyptian bloggers,' HRinfo Executive Director, Gamal Eid said.

"The harassments against Al-Jazeera staff become the standard methodology and the routine exercise of the Egyptian government. Such restrictions are, apparently, applied with the purpose to limit the boldness of Al-Jazeera in keeping abreast of events regardless of threats."

For more, click here.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Why the US should be concerned about the crackdown about the Muslim Brothers

Once again, the government is in the midst of a crackdown against Muslim Brothers. On Jan. 9, five members were arrested in Dakahliya and Gharbiya, including Mohamed Farag, a candidate for parliament. This comes on the heels of arrests of 29 members Jan. 2 in Sharqiya, Gharbiya and Daqahliya, as reported by Egyptian human rights organizations. And on Dec. 31, 20 MB members were arrested in Fayoum right after Eid prayers.

It's been hard for Amnesty International to work on MB cases, particularly in America. It's not for a lack of effort. We consider all arrests of non-violent political activists as to be cause of concern and to be potential prisoners of conscience, regardless of ideology. We have in the past selected many of the MB members as prisoners of conscience. It's only the fact that so many MB members are arrested prevents us from working on each individual case.

And yet, many people are uncomfortable working on MB cases. People who acknowledge the injustice of their arrest still raise concerns about the consequences of a MB takeover in Egypt and whether we should be helping non-violent Islamists when so many Islamists work violently to violate human rights.

I support Amnesty International in its efforts to assist MB prisoners of conscience. Human rights work can succeed only when it is based on a single standard of human rights. Success depends upon building upon credibility that a single standard gives. It is only through that credibility that you can build public support for human rights, the kind of public support that brings enough pressure on governments to change.

Basing work on a single standard of human rights is particularly important in the Middle East where there are so many sides willing to look the other way when their allies engage in human rights abuses. I have seen many American public officials who have strong human rights records rendered ineffective in the Middle East because this is the one region where they fail to use a single standard. Many American officials, for example, never seemed to understand that their singling out Saad Ibrahim and Ayman Nour for specialized work in Egypt only seemed to underscore their failure to act on Muslim Brother and other cases and also their failure to take any action on Israels human rights abuses. It goes without saying Saad and Ayman themselves wouldn't want special treatment and always have insisted on a single standard for human rights.

And so it is important for anyone interested in human rights to come to the aid of unjustly imprisoned MB members and to work on a single standard for human rights. It is a lesson on effectiveness and credibility that would be very valuable for American foreign policy makers to remember.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Egypt: protection of torture victim is key for justice to be done

Amnesty International is calling on the Egyptian authorities to ensure the safety of torture victim Emad Mohamed Ali Mohamed, known as Emad al-Kabir, and his protection from further intimidation or reprisal while in prison. This is key to ensure justice is done during the trial on 3 March 2007 of two police officers charged with torturing him, including with rape, in January last year.

Emad al-Kabir was yesterday sentenced to three months' imprisonment for "resisting the authorities" and "assaulting a police officer" and was reportedly taken to prison immediately afterwards. He was tried for intervening to stop a dispute between his cousin and police officers in January 2006. Amnesty International fears that, while in prison, he is now more vulnerable and may be subjected to further intimidation or reprisal in order to force him to withdraw his torture complaint.

Two officers from Bulaq Dakrur Police Station, in Giza Governorate, will be tried for the unlawful detention, torture and rape of Emad al-Kabir. They will also stand trial for obtaining and distributing materials harmful to public moral and decency, as they reportedly filmed and distributed the rape of Emad al-Kabir using a mobile phone camera in order to further degrade and humiliate him. They have been charged under Articles 178, 268 and 282 of Egypt’s Penal Code in December 2006 and could face up to nine years’ imprisonment.

The referral in December 2006 of two police officers to stand trial over the torture of Emad al-Kabir is a first step towards punishing those responsible for allegedly committing acts of torture. However, what happened to Emad al-Kabir is by no means an isolated incident. Torture in Egypt remains widespread and systematic and now torture allegations are being supported by graphic evidence as more videos of torture and other ill-treatment have been posted on the Internet. The most recent video, posted last week on the Internet, showed a screaming woman in a contorted position, tied to a bar hung between two chairs, confessing to murder.
The Egyptian Minister of Interior reportedly ordered the security services to open an investigation to identity the victim.

Amnesty International is again calling on the Egyptian government to implement specific recommendations made by UN treaty bodies and special procedures, especially those of the Committee against Torture; to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and to extend an invitation the to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to visit the country, following his renewed request in July 2006.

In particular, the organization urges the Egyptian authorities to put in place safeguards to ensure that detainees are not subjected to torture or ill-treatment, to investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment seriously, to protect torture victims from intimidation or reprisal, and to establish, as routine, prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into these allegations and bring to justice those who have committed, ordered or authorized such acts.

Emad al-Kabir, a 21 year-old taxi driver from Bulaq Dakrur in Giza Governorate, was arrested on 18 January 2006 after intervening to stop an argument between police officers and his cousin. While in detention at Bulaq Dakrur Police Station, he was slapped and kicked with a stick on his hands and legs. He was accused of "resisting the authorities" and, on 19 January 2006, presented before the Public Prosecutor, who ordered his release on bail of 100 Egyptian pounds (approx. US$17). Instead of being freed, Emad al-Kabir was taken back to Bulaq Dakrur Police Station by police officers where he was detained overnight and tortured.

He told Amnesty International that at around 3am on 20 January 2006, he was taken to an interrogation room, where a number of officers, including the two to stand trial, tied his hands and feet and forced him to sit on the floor. He was whipped and ordered to call himself degrading names. He then had his trousers removed; his legs were raised and he was raped with a stick. The rape was filmed by one of the two police officers, using a mobile phone camera, who told him that he would circulate the video in Emad al-Kabir's neighbourhood in order to publicly humiliate him and intimidate others.

Following the arrest of his brother around 15 November 2006 allegedly for refusing to give a bribe of five Egyptian pounds (approx. US$0.80) to a police officer, Emad al-Kabir approached the authorities, using a copy of the video of his own rape, to ask for his brother's release for fear that he might be tortured, including with rape. He was asked to write a complaint and was later taken to the Bulaq Dakrur Police Station, where he was detained overnight. During his detention at the police station, two senior officers tried to convince him to drop the torture complaint in exchange for them dropping the charges of "resisting the authorities". He also received several calls on his mobile phone threatening him and the safety of his family if he did not remain silent.

The video, which was reportedly widely circulated in the Bulaq Dakrur neighbourhood and among other taxi drivers of the region, was posted on the Internet in November 2006, causing protest among human rights organizations and wide media interest. On 9 December, Emad al-Kabir received a summons to appear before the Public Prosecutor on 12 December in relation to his complaint. He was then questioned and referred for forensic examination. On 24 December, the Public Prosecutor ordered the detention for four days of the two officers Emad al-Kabir was able to name and, on 28 December, referred them to South Cairo Criminal Court for trial. The request of their defence lawyer to be released on bail pending their trial in March was rejected on 9 January 2007 and they remain detained in one of the detention facilities of the Central Security Forces.

Despite evidence that torture in Egypt is widespread and systematic and that everyone taken into detention is at risk of torture or other forms of ill-treatment, the Egyptian authorities continue to admit to only occasional and isolated individual cases of human rights abuses, and to emphasize that disciplinary measures are taken against those guilty of such abuses. Indeed, trials of alleged torturers before criminal courts are mainly restricted to cases where the victim died, and only in criminal, not political, cases. In most cases, security forces have been allowed over many years to act with virtual impunity.

In Egypt's Penal Code, the criminal offence of torture continues to have a restricted definition and is limited to the context of forcing an accused person into making a confession, and death threats and physical torture are criminalized only when they happen following an illegal arrest. This means, for example, that no criminal charges can be brought against officers who torture a person who is not a "suspect"in any offense or in order to obtain information, rather than a "confession", from them. Despite numerous calls by UN bodies and national and international non-governmental organizations to adopt a definition of torture that fully corresponds with the definition in Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Egypt is a state party, the authorities have to date taken no such action.

Monday, January 08, 2007

'This Is How They Kidnapped Me'

The Chicago Tribune has published a letter from Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, an Egyptian who allegedly was kidnapped by CIA officials in Italy and transported to Egypt, where he has been in detention ever since. The case is being investigated by Italian officials and nearly two dozen Americans are under indictment, although it is unlikely they will be brought to trial.

The letter shows the result of the U.S. secret renditions policy: torture. It is not an afterthought, an unfortunate aftermath to a legal action. It is embedded and inevitable in the policy. Any action taken in secret, done illegally and without oversight and without regard for international legal standards is predetermined to fall into criminality and in this case torture.
His letter from prison cites torture from electric shocks, beatings and sexual abuse.

Furthermore, the American action appears to have thwarted justice. It interrupted an Italian investigation into the Egyptian. Today's Tribune reports that the worse charges the CIA had against him -- a plot to blow up a school bus -- had no basis in fact. And the Tribune reports the rendition may have been prompted by a desire to attempt to turn him as an informant. All of that has failed as well as the charges brought against him by the the Italian investigation. In other words, the one legal case against him has been disrupted by the illegal rendition.

For the Tribune article on the case, click here.
For the full text of his letter, click here.

Take Action: Forcible Rendition/Fear of Torture

The Egyptian authorities are preparing to forcibly return the four Tunisian nationals listed above, and could do so at any time. If returned to Tunisia they would be in grave danger of torture. They are held at the al-Khalifa detention centre, in the capital, Cairo. They have not been charged with any offence. Five other Tunisian nationals are reported to have been forcibly returned on 4 January.

They were among a group of students, both foreign and Egyptian, arrested at around the end of November. All were interrogated and allegedly tortured in connection with the activities of a terrorist cell recruiting people in Egypt to go to fight the US-led coalition in Iraq. All were detained for some weeks at the State Security Intelligence (SSI) office in Madinet Nasr, Northern Cairo, during which time they claim that they were tortured: this included being beaten and given electric shocks to sensitive parts of their bodies while blindfolded and handcuffed. They were also prevented from sleeping and forced to watch as their cellmates were tortured.

Five other Tunisian nationals who suffered the same treatment at the SSI in Madinet Nasr were reportedly forcibly returned in the evening of 4 January, after spending a number of days at al-Khalifa detention centre. Their whereabouts are now unknown, and it is not clear whether they were arrested on arrival.

As well as the nine Tunisians, eight French, two Belgians, one US citizen and a number of Syrians and Egyptians had been arrested in a sweep through the Madinet Nasr district in Cairo and in Alexandria. The French and Belgian nationals were all students who had come to Egypt to learn Arabic and study Islam. They were arrested in November on suspicion of involvement in a terrorist network. All French and Belgian students were released when they were returned to their respective countries from Egypt on 7 December.


Over the years, Amnesty International has received numerous reports of torture and ill-treatment by the Tunisian security forces, including agents of the State Security Department at the Ministry of the Interior in the capital, Tunis. In virtually all cases, allegations of torture are not investigated and the perpetrators are not brought to justice.

In May 2004, Tunisian national Tarek Belkhirat was forcibly returned to Tunisia from France after his request for asylum was rejected. He was arrested upon arrival, and charged under the 2003 anti-terrorism law. In February 2005, the Council of State (Conseil d’État), the highest administrative court in France, quashed the order to deport Tarek Belkhirat to Tunisia. In March 2005, a court in Tunis sentenced him to 10 years' imprisonment. In October 2005 this was reduced on appeal to five years. He remains in prison in Tunisia.

The Tunisian authorities are holding some 400 prisoners under the 2003 counter-terrorism law for allegedly seeking to go to fight in Iraq.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English and Arabic or your own language:

To the Egyptian authorities

- expressing concern at allegations that the four Tunisian nationals (naming them), and all those detained with them, have been tortured in custody;

- calling on the authorities to open an immediate investigation into these allegations and bring those responsible to justice;

- calling on authorities to ensure that they are not subjected to any further violations;

- expressing concern at reports that the four men are in imminent danger of being forcibly returned to Tunisia, and calling for all attempts to return them to be halted;

- urging the authorities to stop the forcible return of any person to a country where they would be at risk of serious human rights abuses in accordance with their international obligations under Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;

- reminding the authorities that the forcible return of anyone to a country where there are substantial reasons to believe they are at risk of torture is absolutely prohibited under international law;

- urging the Egyptian authorities not to send the four to any third country where they would not be granted effective and durable protection against forcible return to Tunisia.


H.E. Muhammad Hosni Mubarak

President of the Arab Republic of Egypt

‘Abedine Palace, Cairo, EGYPT

Fax: +20 2 390 1998

E-mail: webmaster@presidency.gov.eg

Salutation: Your Excellency

General Habib Ibrahim El Adly

Minister of the Interior, Ministry of the Interior

Al-Sheikh Rihan Street, Bab al-Louk, Cairo, EGYPT

Fax: +20 2 579 2031

E-mail: moi@idsc.gov.eg



Salutation: Dear Minister


National Council for Human Rights

1113, Corniche al-Nil

NDP Building, Cairo, EGYPT

Fax: +20 2 5747670