2011-01-28 Cable: Police torture in Egypt

US State cable 2010-02-17 10CAIRO213 documents a communication from a human rights activist (name redacted) to the US government discussing torture in Egypt and how best to address it.

On February 10, XXXXXXXXXXXX urged the U.S. to focus on quiet diplomatic approaches to the GOE on combating torture as our top human rights priority. XXXXXXXXXXXX believed such diplomacy would be more successful than efforts on other human rights issues. XXXXXXXXXXXXX advised that a series of discreet diplomatic approaches, as opposed to public statements, would be most effective in securing GOE agreement to combat torture. He said he has been in contact with diplomats from EU countries to encourage them to make similar approaches to the GOE.

XXXXXXXXXXX was pessimistic that the GOE would pass significant political legislation, other than the human trafficking law, before the 2011 residential elections. GOE discussions about lifting the State of emergency and passing a counterterrorism law “are just a distraction,” he maintained. XXXXXXXXXXX asserted that MFA and NDP fficials, as well as some journalists in the pro-government press, are embarrassed over the extensive use of torture, and want to see improvements. He believed that a discreet order from the Interior Ministry to stop torture would have a powerful effect, and would be more effective than the passage of legislation expanding the definition of torture and increasing penalties, which the quasi-government National Council for Human Rights and independent NGOs have urged. (Note: A contact confirmed that on February 15 a parliamentary committee rejected legislation proposed by a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated MP to increase prison terms for torture from the current 3-10 years to 25 years, and extend the definition to cover senior officers who order torture. End note.)

According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, the worst police torture takes place during urder investigations. He said that his brother-in-law who is a police officer in the Delta Governorate of Kafr El-Sheikh described “unrelenting pressure” from superiors to solve murder cases by any means necessary. XXXXXXXXXXX said human rights lawyers and XXXXXXXXXXX have told him that to conduct murder investigations, police will round up 40 to 50 suspects from a neighborhood and hang them by their arms from the ceiling for weeks until someone confesses.

XXXXXXXXXXXX believed that a GOE political decision to stop pressuring police officers to solve crimes quickly by using torture if necessary would have far-reaching effects. XXXXXXXXXXXX speculated that such a policy change could have a broad positive impact on the rule of law, the police’s role in society and even political participation. If the public’s fear of the police waned, he noted, citizens would not be as afraid to enter police stations to report crimes, tell the police about their neighborhoods, or procure voter registration cards for the coming elections. He said the current pervasive nature of torture began in the 1990’s when the security forces were fighting Islamic extremists, and would be possible to reverse. XXXXXXXXXXX recalled that the public respected the police in the 980’s, and he expected that with a policy change the GOE could restore a positive relationship between the public and the police.

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