Egyptian police target impoverished children: Rights activist

Bel Trew, Monday 4 Feb 2013

The refusal of treatment for a teenage cancer patient in detention is a highlighted case among a record number of missing protesters after week of political turmoil, Egyptian rights organisations tell Ahram Online

Police Brutality
Egyptian riot police arrest a young man during clashes with protesters near Tahrir Square 30 January (Photo: AP)

A fourteen year-old bone cancer patient in police custody is being refused chemotherapy treatment amid a rise in disappearances and arrests of minors.

"Mahmoud Adel is late for his chemotherapy," says Ghada Shahbender of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights to Ahram Online, adding that this could seriously compromise the child's health.

Another minor, Abdel-Rahman Ramadan, 13, was also detained on the same day. At least 30 protesters have gone missing during a week of unrest across the country, rights groups told Ahram Online Sunday.

Police brutality in Egypt topped international headlines after Friday footage of middle-aged man, Hamada Saber, being dragged naked across concrete and badly beaten by the presidential palace was broadcast live. According to members of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre and No To Military Trials for Civilians campaign, since January 25 2013 further violations have been documented.

"Even though we presented the judge on Saturday with all the necessary hospital documentation proving this [that Adel needs cancer treatment] and proof that they were both underage, he ordered that they be detained for another 15 days," continues Shahbender.

"There is no concrete evidence that either of them were involved in the protests - even by police records - yet they are being held in adult facilities and our appeal was rejected," Shahbender adds.

Adel's brother, Mohamed, says Adel was arrested, not while attending the rallies, but "as he was going home from a friend's house."

"He's a very sick kid. Our lawyer gave the authorities the medical papers – and until now we still don't know what exactly he is charged with," Mohamed says.

Abdel-Rahman Ramadan, who is not related in any way to Adel, meanwhile, is also not well, his mother Om Abdu tells Ahram Online.

"He has a blood condition. Any bleeding could be fatal," says his mother. She maintains her son was boarding a bus when the authorities took him.

Both children come from impoverished backgrounds, "we can barely make ends meet" Ramadan's mother told Ahram Online, visibly distraught.

Adel's brother, Mohamed, meanwhile, reports that his brother keeps asking if they are "coming to pick him up" and his mother is "worried to death."

Both families report being given a hard time to see their children. The first visit was Wednesday, they say, four days after the arrest. Meanwhile in Cairo, 255 people have been detained since the two-year anniversary of the revolution on January 25, 2013 from Tahrir Square and the streets of downtown Cairo. A large proportion of those detained were children, reports a Sunday press release circulated by members of No To Military Trials for Civilians and the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre.

Generally there has been a rise in protesters, including children, going missing in Cairo. The groups describe the tendency as a "campaign of random arrests and kidnapping of citizens… in response to protest movements."

Maha Maamoun of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre recounts how the majority of the 30 missing protesters they have been following were abducted between Tuesday 28 and Wednesday 29 January, during rallies on Qasr El-Nil Bridge and Tahrir Square.

"The disappearances have become much worse recently - the numbers are huge," Maamoun says, "much more than any other events – people are literally disappearing. Either they have been detained in police stations, central security premises for days without being interrogated or they are turning up in hospitals."

One man, she describes, was found in Qasr El-Aini hospital in a coma. Families, she explains, are left to search police stations and medical centres when their loved ones do not make it home since the authorities make no efforts to alert families their loved ones have been arrested.

"There is no communication – this number of '30' is the people we know are missing. They have someone looking for them or know how to contact us," Maamoun explains. "The actual number of disappearances is much higher."

Maamoun is not sure why the instances have increased or why the security forces "break the law to behave in this way. It is definitely a way of frightening people...The percentage of children in each set of detentions is rising," adds Shahbender. She explains that roughly around a third of the recent political prisoners are underage, normally from an impoverished background.

"From what I have observed in the clashes as a human rights advocate, the Central Security Forces tend to target weaker, younger people. They are very brutal with the children."

In addition, Shahbender says rights groups would normally be granted access to the detainees but in the last week, "they are not giving us any private time with these children, which is not customary."

Searches are currently underway to locate the missing and campaigns have been launched to free or at least secure positions in juvenile (versus adult) detention centres for the children.

Against the background of growing political unrest, these rights organisations expect further abuses. "Why can't they leave the children alone?" Mohamed, Adel's brother concludes, "Why are they preying on the defenceless?"

Until publishing time, Ahram Online couldn't reach the interior ministry for an answer.

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