What former inmates call “hell,” the National Security Agency offices located inside the Ministry of Interior, in the Lazoghly district, is ironically a few steps away from Tahrir Square.
There, five and half years ago, hundreds of thousands of people demanded an end to the brutality and torture of the Mubarak era. Mubarak fell and his secret police, the State Security Investigations Service, was dissolved. Now it has been reborn with a new name, the NSA, but with the same agents. It is no surprise that torture has resumed like before — only worse.
Amnesty International denounced in its report released this week that Cairo has unleashed “an unprecedented wave of abductions, disappearances and torture.” The situation has plummeted since March 2015, when Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, a veteran of the security apparatus, was appointed Minister of the Interior.
The local organizations for human rights provide disturbing figures: in 2015, more than 1,000 cases of torture; from January 2015 to May 2016, nearly 2,500 cases of enforced disappearances.
These two violations of human rights go hand in hand.
Taken in broad daylight on the street or abducted at night from their homes by heavily armed agents of the NSA, the Egyptian disappeareds — usually males between 14 and 50 years old — are detained for months, often handcuffed and blindfolded for the entire period. Ninety percent of them will appear at some point before a judge, but often they are just taken from one place of unlawful detention to an official detention place to await trial.
Isolated from the outside world, unable to contact their family and lawyers for weeks or months, the detainees are subjected to beatings, rapes and electric shocks until they sign “confessions,” which are then used as evidence against them at trial, which will end with a conviction.
There are also minors among the disappeared and tortured. Like Mazen Mohamed Abdallah: subjected to enforced disappearance in September 2015, when he was 14, he was repeatedly raped with a wooden stick to extract a false “confession.”
Or like Asher Mohamed, who was 14 years old when arrested, forcibly disappeared in January 2016 for 34 days, at the headquarters of the NSA, located in 6th of October City. During that time he was beaten, hit with electric shocks all over his body and suspended by the limbs. Eventually he was brought before a prosecutor who threatened him with further electrocution when he tried to retract the “confession.”
Enforced disappearances have a devastating impact on hundreds of families left alone to wonder about the fate of their loved ones. Some denounce the disappearance of their loved ones to the Ministry of the Interior and the Prosecutor Office, only to be told that “he hasn’t turned up.”
That “he hasn’t turned up” proclaimed several times in the last five months, even in regards to the disappearance and torture of Giulio Regeni. But despite the denials and false leads by the Egyptian authorities, Amnesty International reveals the similarities between the signs of torture on his body and those of the Egyptians who died in state custody. This suggests that his death was just the tip of the iceberg and that it may have become part of a wider series of enforced disappearances by the National Security Agency and other intelligence services around the country. The government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi insists on denying that enforced disappearances occur in Egypt.
It is easy to do so, thanks to the complicity of the judiciary: The prosecutor allows the NSA to falsify the dates of arrest to hide the period in which the prisoners are subjected to enforced disappearance, issues indictments based on “confessions” extracted under duress and almost never starts investigations into allegations of torture.
And speaking of complicity, in the name of fighting terrorism, a resolution in Libya and opposition to immigration, Egypt continues to be regarded by the United States and the European Union as a reliable and strategic country, to which they continue to sell weapons and surveillance systems without asking how they will be used in cases of human rights violations.
Riccardo Noury is a spokesman for Amnesty International Italy.