Protesters in Egypt recount their experiences of military detainment, army denies torture

Menna Taher, Thursday 17 Mar 2011

In a press conference held yesterday, protesters who had been detained by the army describe the brutal and humiliating practices they endured, giving a voice for those still unaccounted for

On 9 March, the sit-in in Tahrir Square was ended with force as the army and civilians attacked protesters, chasing many away and rounding up the rest. Since then, it has been reported by lawyers that around 170 protesters detained by the army are awaiting trial in military courts on charges of being thugs.

In the days since this violent crackdown, as protesters have been tried and released in dribbles, testimonies of the abuses and conditions endured while in captivity have begun to emerge.

The media and interested parties were given the opportunity to hear first hand such testimonies by protesters at a press conference held yesterday at the Press Syndicate in Cairo. The relatives of those still imprisoned also spoke of their torment.

Rasha Azab, a journalist, and actor Aly Sobhy recounted their experiences of beatings and torture in detail.

According to eyewitnesses, thousands are still being held in the military camps with detainees packed inside the Egyptian Museum, which has been turned into a torture chamber by the army.

“They made us say ‘irfaa rasak fo’ inta masry’ (put your head up high you’re Egyptian) – one of the main chants by Egyptians throughout the revolution – and then beat us,” Sobhy said. “I don’t know what they were thinking. It was a way of bringing us down.”

Along with the beatings, detainees were electrocuted, handcuffed for hours and insulted. Women were pressed to take off all their clothes for check-ups, with the doors open.

"They conducted a virginity check on the unmarried girls," revealed one speaker. "And threatened that they will charge us with prostitution if we were not [virgins]."

The young woman shook all over as she returned to her seat after recounting her experience. Others broke down in tears.

While the Egyptian media has avoided giving any room for such accounts, it has let the military refute such allegations. In an interview with the daily newspaper Al-Shorouk, the head of the military police, General Hamdy Badeen, stated that his men have never tortured anyone.

"The military police does not torture or electrocute or any of the things alleged," he told the newspaper. "Our role is to arrest those breaking the law and hand them to the investigative authority. We didn't and won't lay our hand on or point a gun towards any Egyptian citizen."

“The media is covering up the whole issue,” said Rasha Azab. “Even the newspaper I write for has refused to publish my personal account and I had to publish it on my own through social media.”

Aly Sobhy, an actor, affirmed that all those who were taken on 9 March were protesters not thugs. “The thugs worked with the army. They would point at someone and the army takes them,” he said.

“Anyone who had injuries that gave the impression he was a thug was taken to be presented to the Egyptian media. They put Molotov cocktails and weapons in front of us so as to appear we were thugs.”

“The trial was turning absurd. If I made a film it wouldn’t be as absurd; we were tried in a kitchen,” Sobhy continued.

The mother of one of the protesters in Tahrir Square on 9 March cried as she told how she hasn’t heard of her son since.

Another mother was on her way to the syndicate to report her son Samir Hassan as missing when her other son, Ibrahim, was taken.

Amr El-Beheiry’s brother also spoke. El-Beheiry was sentenced by a military court to five years after a trial, his brother said, that lasted three minutes. “They also refused any testimonies that plead his innocence.”

The names of those detained by the army were recorded by their families for a group of lawyers to proceed with their cases.

“How can one take the legal path for an issue that doesn’t follow legislation?” said the human rights lawyer Gamal Eid at the press conference. “The military trials are not legal.”

The media’s warped representation of events was also discussed. A woman who had witnessed the protests in Maspero expressed her disgust at the newspaper Al Youm al-Saba’ for their falsely reporting that protesters carried weapons. “I contacted them several times and sent a letter but I received no reply and they still didn’t correct the information,” she said.

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