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Egyptian journalists launch new watchdog against torture

As new cases of police torture of reporters surface at a turbulent time in the country, journalists vow to fight for dignity on the job

Tony Gamal Gabriel, Wednesday 6 Nov 2013
Islam fathi
MBC Masr reporter Islam Fathi who says he was tortured by police recently (Photo: courtesy of MBC Masr website)
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'Journalists against torture,' a new body aimed at denouncing the torture and mistreatment of Egyptian journalists at the hands of the authorities, was launched Tuesday.

The founding statement of the group was signed by 60 journalists working across 35 media outlets.

“We will file collective complaints with the general prosecution to investigate the continuous rights violations journalists are subjected to,” founding member Ashraf Abbas told Al-Ahram's Arabic news website, adding that violations have “increased in the recent period, including cases of arrest, torture, and physical harm.”

The move comes after a recent torture case of a journalist drew outrage.

On 3 November, MBC Masr television channel revealed on its website that its Minya correspondent Islam Fathi was tortured and beaten repeatedly by police. MBC published pictures of Fathi with bruises on his face and neck.

The journalist was detained for 24 hours after an altercation with a police officer, who prevented him from crossing a police cordon to cover the collapse of a building.

Fathi later told privately-owned newspaper Al-Shorouk that following the confrontation he was taken to a local police station by around 15 police conscripts, who kept beating him. His hands and feet were then handcuffed and attached to a horizontal stick, and he was left hanging while police conscripts and officers continued to beat and insult him.

“When they took me to the cell, fellow detainees took pity on me, pouring water on my body and trying to give me food and water, but I could not eat because my teeth hurt from the beating,” Fathi told Al-Shourouk.

The following day, Fathi appeared before prosecution.

Fathi said that out of fear for his life he told the prosecutor “I am to blame, write anything, the important thing is that I leave this place. I saw the police officer who started the confrontation and told him: I learned my lesson, I'll kiss your feet, let me leave.” 

Later, Fathi said he gathered his strength and filed a complaint agaist the officers who allegedly tortured him.

Minya's security head denied Fathi's account to Al-Shourouk, accusing him of assaulting the police officer in the first place.

Torture and mistreatments of detainees are common practice in Egypt’s police stations. The end of the police state and police brutality were two of the central demands of the 25 January revolution that ended Hosni Mubarak’s rule in 2011. Since then, human rights activists have repeatedly called for the in-depth reform of security practices and methods.

On 26 June, a few days before mass protests that led to the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian El-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims released a statement detailing the number of torture victims during Morsi’s first year in power.

The report stated that between the 30 June 2012 and 31 May 2013, the press had documented 359 torture cases and 217 deaths connected with torture. The El-Nadeem Centre said that it had dealt with 121 torture cases itself last year, between 30 June and 31 December. A number of cases were also reported after 30 June.

After the ouster of the Islamist leader, new videos circulated on social media outlets showing individuals who appeared to be officers abusing and torturing detainees.

Wael Abbas, a prominent journalist and blogger, who gained notoriety in 2006 after publishing videos of police officers torturing detainees, told Ahram Online that security forces were never forced to change their brutal methods after the 2011 uprising.

“It is to be expected that torture has continued to be practised, as in the time of Mubarak, as the interior ministry was never reformed or purged,” Abbas said, adding that, “no police officer was ever convicted in a torture case, or for the killing of protesters.”

"[We will organise] protests to call for constitutional articles and laws to protect journalists during their work," Khaled Hussein, a founding member of “Journalists against torture”  told Al-Ahram.

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