Video Shows Egypt Prisoner's Humiliation
Sunday, January 21, 2007; 10:17 PM
CAIRO, Egypt -- The footage is shocking: A man lies screaming on the floor of a police station as officers sodomize him with a wooden pole.
Compounding the shock, it turns out that it was the police who made the film, and that they then transmitted it to the cell phones of the victim's friends in order to humiliate him.
For Egypt, the ordeal of 21-year-old Emad el-Kabir has been something of a Rodney King moment _ a sudden, stark glimpse of a reality which authorities routinely deny, but which human rights groups say is part of a pattern of police brutality.
But unlike the tape of the Los Angeles police beating up King in 1991, which was aired almost immediately, the attack on el-Kabir happened a year ago, and has only became public months later after an Egyptian blogger posted it on his site and it reached YouTube.
A newspaper, al-Fagr, then published a story about it, and appealed to el-Kabir to come forward. He did, giving a TV interview and filing a complaint against the police officers with the state prosecutor.
That's where the Rodney King analogy ends. Few people in this nation of 74 million have Internet access, and no TV station has shown anything of the offending footage. There have been no demonstrations or riots or high-profile lawsuits. The only person so far to be sentenced is the victim himself, who police say injured an officer with a broken bottle. On Jan. 9, he was jailed for three months.
Human rights activists say police brutality is deeply entrenched in Egyptian life.
"Torture in Egypt is just routine, exerted on everybody whether in political or criminal cases, and the police don't really feel any shame in practicing it," said Mohammed Zarie, head of the Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners.
Still, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key U.S. ally, is under mounting pressure for democratic freedoms and human rights, and the el-Kabir video, along with other less widely publicized videos of recent months, appear to have embarrassed authorities into action.
The same judge who jailed el-Kabir ordered two officers suspected of torturing him to remain in custody until they go on trial March 3. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry has ordered a nationwide search to identify a woman seen tortured in a different video and to determine who abused her. She is seen hanging by her legs from a pole balanced between two chairs, screaming in pain and confessing to a murder.
El-Kabir, a minibus driver, says he got into trouble at a Cairo parking lot in January 2006 when he intervened in an argument between police and his cousin, the driver of truck carrying cooking gas canisters. He says an officer hit him in the back of the head with the butt of his gun. Then he was taken to a nearby police station, released on bail, and that evening the police came to his home and took him back to their station.
There, he said, they beat him with fists and sticks and ordered him to shout obscenities. The video took the story from there, showing el-Kabir on his back on the floor, naked from the waist down, his legs held up in the air.