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Egypt hits out at HRW over damning torture report

Interior ministry criticises 'biased' report by rights defender, which documented 'widespread and systematic use of torture'
Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Cairo (AFP)

Egypt on Thursday criticised a report by Human Rights Watch which accused security forces and police of systematically torturing political prisoners.

A spokesman for the foreign ministry, Ahmed Abu Zeid, described the report as a deliberate distortion and accused the New-York based rights group of working for the countries that fund it.

"The organisation is infamous for its biased policy," he claimed. "Spreading rumours, provoking feelings and relying on unreferenced witnesses are all actions that shouldn’t be adopted by such an organisation, which pretends it defends human rights."

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"The report used 20-year-old files or even older to express the current situation in Egypt."

"Careful reading makes it clear that the report is biased. Selection of information sources that are known to be antagonising to the Egyptian authorities, besides unknown sources prove the bias," Abu Zeid said.

"The report tried to make facts up, including attaching police torture claims to the case of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni’s torture and murder, although the investigation is still ongoing.

In a 63-page report titled: "We Do Unreasonable Things Here’: Torture and National Security in al-Sisi’s Egypt," HRW detailed how Egypt’s regular police and national security officers routinely use torture including beatings, electric shocks, stress positions and even rape while investigating suspected dissidents, or to punish them.

The report used interviews with 19 former detainees and the family of a 20th who were tortured between 2014 and 2016. HRW said that the documented techniques of torture had been used in police stations and national security offices throughout the country to force political detainees to confess or divulge information.

Commenting on the report, HRW Middle East director Joe Stork also warned that if left unaddressed, such allegations could invite more unrest to the country since "past impunity for torture … had laid the conditions for the 2011 revolt."

But Abu Zeid said that it was the release of the report itself that reflects "a planned attempt [on HRW’s part] to encourage violence". And late Thursday, it appeared that Egypthad blocked access to the Human Rights Watch website. Reuters attempted to access the site late Thursday but was unsuccessful.

Tense relations

The executive director of HRW and another senior staff member were denied entry to Egypt for "security reasons" after being held at Cairo airport for 12 hours in August 2014.

The move came after HRW released a damning report on mass killings of protesters by security forces in Rabaa Square on 14 August 2013.

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Kenneth Roth and Sarah Leah Whitson had flown to Cairo to take part in the launch of the report which detailed how supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi, had been camped out around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo for weeks when police moved in to disperse them using teargas and live ammunition.

The report estimated that at least 1,000 protesters were killed in the dispersal.

HRW is one of a number of international and Egyptian rights groups that have expressed alarm about a severe and increasingly broad crackdown on dissent since the army's overthrow of Morsi in July 2013.

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