Friday, 28 January 2011


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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CAIRO79 2009-01-15 15:03 2011-01-28 00:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 000079   SIPDIS   DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, DRL/NESCA, INL AND INR/NESA  NSC FOR PASCUAL AND KUTCHA-HELBLING   E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/15/2029  TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM EG SUBJECT: GOE STRUGGLING TO ADDRESS POLICE BRUTALITY   REF: A. 08 CAIRO 2431  ¶B. 08 CAIRO 2430  ¶C. 08 CAIRO 2260  ¶D. 08 CAIRO 783  ¶E. 07 CAIRO 3214  ¶F. 07 CAIRO 2845    Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).   ¶1. (C) Summary and comment:  Police brutality in Egypt  against common criminals is routine and pervasive.  Contacts  describe the police using force to extract confessions from  criminals as a daily event, resulting from poor training and  understaffing.  Brutality against Islamist detainees has  reportedly decreased overall, but security forces still  resort to torturing Muslim Brotherhood activists who are  deemed to pose a political threat.  Over the past five years,  the government has stopped denying that torture exists, and  since late 2007 courts have sentenced approximately 15 police  officers to prison terms for torture and killings.  Independent NGOs have criticized GOE-led efforts to provide  human rights training for the police as ineffective and  lacking political will.  The GOE has not yet made a serious  effort to transform the police from an instrument of regime  power into a public service institution.  We want to continue  a USG-funded police training program (ref F), and to look for  other ways to help the GOE address police brutality.  End  summary and comment.   -------------------  A Pervasive Problem  -------------------   ¶2. (C) Torture and police brutality in Egypt are endemic and  widespread.  The police use brutal methods mostly against  common criminals to extract confessions, but also against  demonstrators, certain political prisoners and unfortunate  bystanders.  One human rights lawyer told us there is  evidence of torture in Egypt dating back to the times of the  Pharaohs.  NGO contacts estimate there are literally hundreds  of torture incidents every day in Cairo police stations  alone.  Egyptians are bombarded with consistent news reports  of police brutality, ranging from high profile incidents such  as accidental but lethal police shootings in Salamut and  Aswan this past fall (refs B and C) that sparked riots, to  reports of police officers shooting civilians following  disputes over traffic tickets.  In November 2008 alone, there  were two incidents of off-duty police officers shooting and  killing civilians over petty disputes.  The cases against  both officers are currently making their way through the  judicial system.   ¶3. (C) NGO and academic contacts from across the political  spectrum report witnessing police brutality as part of their  daily lives.  One academic at XXXXXXXXXXXX who is a member of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP)  policy committee told us of accompanying his sister to a  Cairo police station to report her stolen purse.  In front of  this academic, the police proceeded to beat a female suspect  into confessing about others involved in the theft and the  whereabouts of the stolen valuables.  A contact from an  international NGO described witnessing police beat the  doorman of an upscale Cairo apartment building into  disclosing the apartment number of a suspect.  Another  contact at a human rights NGO told us that her friends do not  report thefts from their apartments because they do not want  to subject "all the doormen" in the vicinity to police  beatings.  She told us that the police's use of force has  pervaded Egyptian culture to the extent that one popular  television soap opera recently featured a police detective  hero who beats up suspects to collect evidence.   ¶4. (C) Contacts attribute police brutality to poor training,  understaffing and official sanction.  Human rights lawyer  XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXX  speculated that officers routinely resort to brutality  because of pressure from their superiors to solve crimes.  He  asserted that most officers think solving crimes justifies  brutal interrogation methods, and that some policemen believe  that Islamic law sanctions torture.  XXXXXXXXXXXX commented that a  culture of judicial impunity for police officers enables  continued brutality.  According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, "Police  officers feel they are above the law and protected by the  public prosecutor."  Human rights lawyer XXXXXXXXXXXX attributed police brutality against common  criminals, including the use of electric shocks, to the  problem of demoralized officers facing long hours and their  own economic problems.  He asserted that the police will even   beat lawyers who enter police stations to defend their  clients.   -----------------------  Criminals and Islamists  -----------------------   ¶5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX explained that since the GOE opened a  dialogue with formerly violent Islamists, such as the Islamic  Group, following the 1997 Luxor terrorist attacks, torture of  Islamists has decreased. XXXXXXXXXXXX  claimed that the GOE now treats Islamists better  than common criminals.  Some Islamist detainees are  "spoiled," he asserted, with regular access to visits from  friends and family, decent food and education.  Before the  Luxor attacks, XXXXXXXXXXXX commented, the government would torture  Islamist detainees on a daily basis.   ¶6. (C) Attorney XXXXXXXXXXXXXX commented that the GOE is more  reluctant to torture Islamists, including Muslim Brotherhood  (MB) members, because of their persistence in making public  political statements, and their contacts with international  NGOs that could embarrass the regime.  XXXXXXXXXXXX speculated that  the exception to this rule is when MB members mobilize people  against the government in a way the regime deems threatening,  such as the April 6 Facebook strike (ref D).  According to  XXXXXXXXXXXX, the MB-affiliated blogger and "April 6 Movement" member  XXXXXXXXXXXX whom police arrested November 20 (ref A) falls  into this category, and the GOE is probably torturing him to  scare other "April 6" members into abandoning their political  activities.  XXXXXXXXXXXX's assessment tracks with "April 6" member  XXXXXXXXXXXX's accounts of his own torture and the alleged  police sexual molestation of a female "April 6" activist this  past November (ref A).  Bloggers close to XXXXXXXXXXXX told  us that following his arrest he was tortured severely with  electric shocks and needed to be hospitalized, but that  security forces stopped the torture when he began  cooperating.   ----------------------------  GOE Awareness of the Problem  ----------------------------   ¶7. (C) Contacts agree that in the past five years, the  government has stopped denying that torture exists and has  taken some steps to address the problem.  However, contacts  believe that the Interior Ministry lacks the political will  to take substantive action to change the culture of police  brutality.  XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that following alleged  standing orders from the Interior Ministry between 2000 and  2006 for the police to shoot, beat and humiliate judges in  order to undermine judicial independence, the GOE made a  political decision in 2007 to allow the courts to sentence  police officers to short prison terms.  XXXXXXXXXXXX described the  2007 Imad El-Kebir case as a turning point in influencing the  government to permit the sentencing of police officers.  (Note:  Per ref E, a court sentenced two police officers to  three years in prison in November 2007 for assaulting and  sodomizing bus driver Imad El-Kebir.  The case gained  notoriety after a cell phone video recording of the torture  was posted on YouTube.  End note.)   ¶8. (C) An estimated 13 cases of officers accused of brutality  are currently working their way through the courts, and  judges have handed down moderate sentences, usually the  minimum three-year prison term, against policemen over the  past few months, often for heinous crimes.  For example, in  October 2008, a court sentenced a policeman to three years in  prison for beating and drowning a fisherman.  In November  2008, a court sentenced two policemen to three years in  prison for hooking a man to their car and dragging him to his  death.  XXXXXXXXXXXXX characterized the sentences as  "light," in proportion to the crimes, but commented that any  prison sentences are an important development toward holding  the police responsible for crimes.  XXXXXXXXXXXX commented  that the prison sentences demonstrate that the GOE is  providing political space for judges to operate somewhat  independently, in response to criticism from foreign  governments and international NGOs.  XXXXXXXXXXXXX of the  Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights described the  sentences as important in drawing public attention to brutal  police crimes, and strengthening the hand of advocates who  call for reforming systemic problems within the police force.    -----------  GOE Efforts  -----------   ¶9. (C) Ambassador Ahmed Haggag, who is detailed from the MFA  as the coordinator for the UNDP Human Rights Capacity  Building Project, described for us the organization's efforts  to train the Interior and Justice Ministries and the Public  Prosecutor on human rights issues through lectures and  workshops.  Acknowledging that torture is a "problem, but not  a daily occurrence," Haggag said the UNDP trains police  officers on international human rights conventions, and is  trying to convince police officers to solve cases using  "legal and ethical means," instead of torture.  Haggag told  us he "doubts there is still torture against political  prisoners."  Staffers from the quasi-governmental National  Council for Human Rights described the council's workshops  for police officers where professors give lectures on human  rights law and prisoner psychology.  NGO contacts have  privately criticized the UNDP project as ineffective,  complaining that it has banned credible human lawyers from  giving lectures to the police because of their political  opposition to the NDP, and instead invites MOI officials  complicit in torture to give human rights presentations.   ¶10. (C) In late December 2008, the MOI announced it had  suspended 280 police officers for human rights violations and  fired 1,164 lower-ranking policemen for misconduct.  Our NGO  contacts doubted that the disciplinary actions were human  rights related, and speculated that the officers were  probably involved in taking bribes and other illegal  activity.  XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that this announcement does  not amount to a serious MOI human rights policy.  XXXXXXXXXXXXX expressed skepticism over whether these disciplinary  actions will result in long-term positive changes, especially  in light of rumors that one of the officers sentenced in the  2007 El-Kebir sodomy case will rejoin the police force as  soon as he leaves prison.   ¶11. (C) Former senior Interior Ministry official Ihab  Youssef, Director of the NGO "The Police and the People for  Egypt" told us in late 2008 that his NGO did not receive many  proposals from the public in response to its solicitation for  ideas on developing projects to build trust between the  police and citizens.  Youssef said that the NGO's Facebook  site, which provides a forum for the public to complain about  the police, has generated more interest.  In September 2008,  Youssef publicly announced the formation of his NGO, which  counts establishment figures such as former FM Ahmed Maher  among its board members (ref C).  Youssef does not receive  GOE funding for the NGO, and has turned to private Egyptian  businesses to raise money.  Our NGO contacts have privately  dismissed Youssef's efforts as non-substantive "propaganda,"  and in a recent magazine article, one of Youssef's own board  members, retired Ambassador Shoukry Fouad, criticized the NGO  as unsuccessful.   -------  Comment  -------   ¶12. (C) The GOE has not begun serious work on trying to  transform the police and security services from instruments  of power that serve and protect the regime into institutions  operating in the public interest, despite official slogans to  the contrary.  It seems that the government would have the  strongest interest in preventing future accidental shootings  of innocents, such as the Salamut and Aswan incidents that  resulted in riots.  We imagine that halting the torture of  common criminals, who are usually poor and voiceless, is  lower on the GOE's agenda.  We want to continue USG-funded  police training, and we will look for ways to help XXXXXXXXXXXX's NGO launch productive work.  SCOBEY

Cable: "Torture and police brutality in Egypt are endemic and widespread"