Torture blogs damage Egyptian image


A wailing woman hangs, her arms and legs tied to a pole balanced on two chairs. She's racked with pain and with a quivering voice she speaks to someone off screen. She has no choice but to confess that she committed a murder. It's not known who the woman is, or what has become of her.
But the images of her torture are just one of many appalling videos of police brutality in Egypt that have been revealed by bloggers on the internet in recent weeks.
The video of Emad al-Qabir is even more shocking. He hangs upside-down, half naked, tied at the legs. His face is twisted, begging for forgiveness. Then someone stands on Emad's hands and shoves a broomstick into his anus. While he screams in pain, the camera zooms in on his face.


An Egyptian police officer tortures a suspect (the image is from YouTube)

Al-Qabir, a minibus driver, was arrested early last year for intervening in a conflict between his nephew and a police officer. The public prosecutor saw no reason to hold him in custody and ordered him released that same day.

But the police kept him behind bars for one more night and tortured him in the early hours of the morning. A short while later he was back on the street in Giza, one of the busiest districts of Cairo.
The police filmed their brutality with a video camera on a mobile telephone. Before he was released, Al-Qabir was told everyone in his neighbourhood would be shown the video so that he would be "mentally broken."

A short while later the images of his humiliation were circulated via mobile telephones... but it wasn't until November that they reached the internet. That was when Al-Qabir and a human rights lawyer reported the abuse.

The cruel irony is that his complaint was ignored, and to add insult to injury he was charged with having resisted arrest during his first altercation with the police. He was recently sentenced to three months in prison, and human rights organisations fear for his safety in prison.

National media attention has forced the public prosecutor to order an investigation of the conduct of the two police officers who were identified by Al-Qabir. They have been taken into custody and will be brought before a judge in March.

The torture scenes appear to confirm precisely what organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been reporting for years: that the Egyptian police and state security service engage in "wide-scale and systematic use of torture". Despite this, the Egyptian government insists that such torture does not take place in the country and that incidents of abuse are merely an exception.

Wael Abbas is one of the first bloggers who posted images of Al-Qabir on the internet via the website On his own website ( there are various links to horrific videos that the police or witnesses have filmed in police stations. But now that he's publicised these videos, Abbas no longer feels safe. He fears that he may be arrested at any moment.

And he wouldn't be the first Egyptian blogger to end up behind bars. Other internet activists have been imprisoned in the past year for insulting the president or for inciting hatred by criticising Islam. But Wael continues to call on anyone who has photos or videos of police brutality to send them to him. 

A spokesman for the interior ministry has appeared on TV to condemn bloggers like Abbas for damaging the nation's image - a punishable offence in Egypt. Last week a journalist working for the Arabic news network, Al Jazeera was arrested by the Egyptian state security service because he possessed videotapes on which scenes of police abuse were reconstructed for use in a documentary. The reporter was released after two days of interrogation. All the videotapes were confiscated and the journalist is still being investigated on suspicion of subversive activity.

In the meantime, the interior ministry has decided that mobile telephones equipped with cameras are no longer allowed in police stations.

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