May 31, 2006
Challenging Authoritarian Rule in Egypt
Human Rights Watch released the following statement today. Political activists Karim al-Sha`ir and Mohamed al-Sharqawi were arrested last Thursday as they were leaving a peaceful demonstration in downtown Cairo. Agents of the State Security Investigations (SSI) bureau of the Interior Ministry arrested both men. The men claim they were beaten in custody.
Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that security agents beat al-Sha`ir in the street.
According to his lawyer, al-Sha`ir said that the beatings continued once he was in police custody. In his statement, al-Sharqawi wrote that his captors at the Qasr al-Nil police station beat him for hours and then raped him with a cardboard tube. Then they sent him to the State Security prosecutor’s office in Heliopolis.
The State Security prosecutor ordered both men to be held for 15 days pending investigations. The authorities had released al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir from Tora prison on May 22 after detaining them in earlier protests on April 24 and May 7 respectively. The demonstration on May 25 commemorated the one-year anniversary of widespread violence by police and ruling party thugs against journalists and demonstrators urging a boycott of a constitutional referendum.
Al-Sharqawi wrote in his statement that around 20 State Security officers surrounded him as he attempted to leave last week’s protest by car and began beating him furiously:
“Their punches and kicks came one after the other… There were moments of so much pain, so many insults, so many blows… targeting all my body.” Al-Sharqawi wrote that he was stuffed into a police van, after which “they ordered me to put my head between my knees. Of course I obeyed. As soon as I did, they started hitting me on my back with all their strength.”
Gamal Eid, a lawyer for al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir, told Human Rights Watch that when he saw al-Sharqawi that night, his lips were swollen and bloody, his eyes were nearly swollen shut, and you could see the imprints of shoes on his skin. He told me the beatings had continued for nearly three hours and that he had been unable to reply to police questioning because his mouth was full of blood and his lips were too swollen. It was pure sadism. I hadn’t seen anyone that badly tortured in 12 years.
On May 27, a group of prisoners detained over the past month for participating in peaceful demonstrations in solidarity with reformist judges announced they were beginning a hunger strike to protest the treatment of al-Sharqawi and al-Sha`ir. On May 30, visitors to the prison reported that 13 hunger strikers had been transferred to solitary confinement.