A strongly-worded letter requesting information about reports of systematic torture, at times leading to death, of Egyptian political activists has been sent to the Egyptian government by the Geneva-based Committee Against Torture.
The committee is the body charged with overseeing the commitment of governments to observe the terms of the UN Convention against Torture, which Egypt has ratified.
The letter referred to recent reports of torture by a number of activists, including some allegations of rape.
According to a source at the ministry of justice, the letter does not conclude firmly that the “alleged cases of torture” occurred but “it does demand clarification on specific cases.”
Among the specific cases included in the letter is Mohamed El-Gendy, an activist whose death on 4 February was blamed on police torture by his family and by other activists. A government forensic report attributed his death to a car accident, and government sources have denied the allegations of torture.
According to the source at the ministry of justice, a “reply to refute the accounts will be sent to the committee.”
“We are waiting for some information to come from the ministry of interior on a few matters and then we will draft a reply,” he said.
The government's formal response will then have to be vetted by the ministry of foreign affairs before it is sent to the committee.
Egypt ratified the convention on torture in the mid-1980s but has systematically declined to sign its additional protocol that demands the establishment of a national body to observe the implementation of the terms of the convention “in a clear sign on the evasiveness of genuine state commitment to really eliminate torture in all its forms and degrees,” said Mahmoud Qandil, lawyer and human rights activist.
“With the 25 January revolution one would have expected a move towards adopting this additional protocol but instead what we see is a systematic increase of torture – even if not at the same degree as in pre-revolution years,” Qandil said.
According to Qandil, “continued impunity and lack of political will to once and for all eliminate torture act as an incitement for continued torture.”
A number of high-profile reports of torture, including El-Gendy's case, have been widely debated in the Egyptian media during the past few weeks.
Cairo-based diplomats from European states which provide financial support to Egypt say that they have repeatedly brought the matter to the attention of the foreign ministry.
The sources, who asked to remain anonymous, said that continued reports of torture were disturbing for their governments, and might affect plans to grant loans to Egypt in the near future.
Concerned government officials acknowledge that they have received several reminders of the EU ‘more for more’ policy that conditions continued financial cooperation between the EU and Egypt on continued and expanded Egyptian commitments to observe democracy and human rights.
The Egyptian government aims to sign a loan agreement with the IMF at some point in the next two months, and hopes that will signal renewed faith in the Egyptian economy and in investment in Egypt.
However, to judge by the views shared by European diplomats in Cairo, the IMF deal cannot be sufficient to encourage investments and loans if the record of human rights in Egypt remains disturbing.
According to several European diplomats who have served in Egypt over the past three to four years, the accounts offered by Egyptian authorities on the reported cases of torture are very similar to those offered by the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak.
In the words of one such diplomat, who spoke to Ahram Online on condition of anonymity, “there is no difference between what we hear from the government today on the case of El-Gendy and what we heard from the government before the [25 January] revolution on the case of Khaled Said.”
In addition to growing concerns over torture, the same diplomatic sources speak of concern over the rights of women and Copts as well as the draft laws on the regulation of non-governmental organisations.
Meanwhile, informed diplomatic sources in Cairo and Washington say that the recent telephone conversation between US President Barack Obama and President Mohamed Morsi included what some qualified as “a firm reminder” of the need for Egyptian authorities to act promptly to secure the rights of minorities and to empower civil society.