(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities forcibly disappeared an Egyptian-American limousine driver, who said authorities also tortured him and held him secretly for four months, Human Rights Watch said today. The man, Khaled Hassan, 41, provided detailed allegations of torture, including two allegations of rape, to Human Rights Watch.
National Security agents arrested and disappeared Hassan on January 8, 2018, in Alexandria, Egypt. Despite immediate requests from his family to the authorities for information on his whereabouts, his arrest was not publicly acknowledged until he appeared before a military prosecutor for the first time on May 3.
Egyptian authorities, in a letter on October 2 responding to Human Rights Watch inquiries, claimed that he was only arrested on May 3 and denied that he had been tortured. But independent forensic experts who reviewed footage of Hassan’s leg wounds found them consistent with his account of torture.
Egyptian prosecutors should immediately open an investigation into his torture claims and have him examined by a forensic medical specialist, Human Rights Watch said. A civilian judge should review his detention and release him unless there is a credible evidence of a recognizable crime.
“Hassan’s disappearance and detailed allegations of torture and the government’s denials reinforce the reality that Egyptian security forces operate with impunity,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Khaled Hassan has been able to bring the gruesome details of his treatment to light, but thousands of others held in Egypt’s prisons have not been able to tell their stories.”
Mohamed Soltan, a former prisoner in Egypt and a human rights advocate of the independent group Freedom Initiative in the United States, alerted Human Rights Watch to the case in September. In interviews conducted remotely, Hassan told Human Rights Watch that in the weeks following his detention on January 8, security forces severely beat him, gave him electric shocks, including on his genitals, and anally raped him in at least two incidents, once with a wooden stick and once by another man.
Human Rights Watch was able to interview two members of Hassan’s family and to review their communications to the authorities seeking information about his whereabouts. Forensic experts also reviewed photos of his wounds taken by Hassan recently in prison. Family members said that Egyptian officials had ordered Hassan’s wife and children to leave the country and offered them no legal recourse. They are now in the US.
Hassan said military prosecutors who saw him for the first time on May 3 ignored his account of torture and ordered him detained pending investigations. They accused him, along with hundreds of other defendants, of involvement in a case related to an ISIS-affiliated group in Egypt. Hassan denied those accusations. He has been in pretrial detention in Istiqbal Tora Prison in Cairo since then, where he says he said he has had insufficient food and health care. He has not been brought before a civilian court or allowed to know the official charges against him, and no date has been set for his trial.
Hassan, who had immigrated to the US years earlier, was living in New York City and spent weeks every year with his wife and children, who lived in Egypt, a family member said. He was never stopped or questioned before, the relative said.
Human Rights Watch has documented a pattern of systematic torture of detainees in secret National Security Agency detention centers and police stations to collect information about suspected dissidents and prepare often fabricated cases against them. Torture techniques usually included stress positions, electric shocks, and threats of rape and sometimes rape.
Local rights organizations have documented hundreds of disappearances in the past five years. Although Egypt’s National Security Agency is responsible for the most flagrant abuses against prisoners, no agency officer has been convicted of these crimes in a final court verdict in Egypt’s recent history.
The Convention Against Torture defines torture as the deliberate infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering, by a public official or equivalent, for a specific purpose such as punishment. An enforced disappearance occurs when someone is deprived of their liberty by state agents or people acting with the state’s authorization, support, or acquiescence, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.
Enforced disappearances and torture are absolutely prohibited under international law in all circumstances. They violate a range of human rights obligations and those responsible can in certain circumstances be prosecuted in other countries.
The use of military courts to try civilians violates Egypt’s obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which guarantees the right to fair trial. Governments should never use military trials for civilians when normal courts can still function.
Despite an intensifying crackdown on human rights by the Egyptian authorities, President Donald Trump’s administration restored US$195 million in military aid to Egypt in July.
Hassan said that US embassy officials have visited him, but he expressed frustration that the US administration has had little to say about the abuses in Egypt under the rule of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Human Rights Watch has said previously that, given authorities’ continued apparent systematic use of torture, Egypt’s allies should stop all security assistance and training and condition their military and security aid on concrete improvement of human rights and accountability of torturers.
“The continuous recklessness of Egyptian authorities in crushing the rule of law should be of serious concern to Egypt’s allies,” Page added. “US authorities should raise Hassan’s case with the Egyptian authorities and should make it clear that torture and abuse are no way to ensure Egypt’s security.”
Arrest, Torture, and Rape
Hassan said that men in civilian clothes, who introduced themselves as belonging to the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency, arrested him in Alexandria as he went to meet his brother in the afternoon of January 8. They took him to the agency’s office in al-Ma’moura area, then transferred him to the agency headquarters in Smouha, Alexandria.
There, he said security agents severely physically abused him for eight days, then moved him to their headquarters in Abbassiya, Cairo, where they held him for another month or more. After forcing him to confess crimes under torture, they sent him back to Smouha for three more months until most of his visible wounds had healed, and then they finally presented him to military prosecutors on May 3, who registered that date as his arrest date and ordered him detained without investigating his account of torture.
In incommunicado detention, he said, National Security Agents severely beat him, cutting his chin and bloodying his nose. They usually stripped him naked during the abuse. They hung him from his arms for days, dislocating both his shoulders. They repeatedly gave him electric shocks to the head, tongue, the anus, the testicles, and his groin area. In Smouha, they used wires and in Abbassiya, they mostly used electric shock devices, which he sometimes saw being charged. Sometimes, he said, they placed him on a wet sheet to increase the effect of electric shocks.
He said that agents used a taser on his leg, causing an open wound that became infected. His leg became swollen and inflamed and the pain and infection made him faint repeatedly. They operated on the wound without anesthesia and while an officer was standing over his chest, he said.
He said that the agents raped him on one occasion with a wooden stick. On another occasion, Hassan said, after he insulted an officer who threatened to arrest his wife, the officer ordered another man to rape Hassan anally. “When they did this, I was ready to say [give any confessions] what they wanted,” he said.
“The worst part was electrocution,” he said, breaking into tears. At the end of each session, they would have to carry him back to his detention cell because he could not walk, he said. He added the agents tried to “fix” his most visible injuries on his body before sending him to military prosecutors on May 3.
While in Abbassiya, Hassan said, he was placed in a “very narrow” cell with 15 other detainees, where they had to sleep “on top of one another.” He said he was allowed to use the toilet once or twice a day and to shower once a month. Authorities told him that he was “a spy.”