Video Shows Egypt Prisoner's Humiliation

The Associated Press
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.

"Oh pasha (sir), I beg your mercy. Pasha, forgive me," el-Kabir cries on the video. The black boots of policemen are seen around him, kicking down his bound hands to prevent him from protecting his naked buttocks.

Then the black pole is wielded and el-Kabir screams.

"Everybody in the parking lot will see this tomorrow," an officer is heard saying.

"I felt so humiliated," el-Kabir said in an interview with The Associated Press. "They were so brutal, as if they were slaughtering an animal and peeling off his skin."

In his complaint to the public prosecutor, he identified the voice on the video as that of Capt. Islam Nabih, and said he led the attack. His lawyer, Nasser Amin, said he also alleged that Nabih and higher-ranking officers threatened him lest he speak out.

On Dec. 26, Nabih and one of his aides, Reda Fathi, were detained, and on Tuesday a judge refused their requests to be released pending their trial. The same judge also sentenced el-Kabir to prison. His lawyer says he is holding the Interior Ministry responsible for his client's safety behind bars.

In court, police said he had a broken bottle and threatened to kill himself if his cousin was arrested, then attacked and injured a policeman in the hand and cheek. Al-Kabir pleaded not guilty and denied wielding a broken bottle or harming a policeman, according to a court official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case with the media.

For el-Kabir to come forward at all meant breaking through barriers of fear and humiliation, given the stigma of sodomy in Egypt's masculine culture.

But some break the silence. In another well-publicized case, Mohammed el-Sharqawi, a pro-democracy activist arrested during a demonstration in Cairo over the summer, said he was raped by police while in custody, a claim his lawyer said was backed by a medical examination which hasn't been made public.

In the interview before his jailing, El-Kabir said his family and fellow drivers are supportive, and "From now on, we will not shut our mouths when we face injustice or torture."

But activists say it will take much more than a few videos to change a security apparatus that has wide powers of arrest and infiltrate every corner of Egyptian life _ schools, political parties, newspapers and the civil service.

Egyptian opposition media have claimed that in the police academy, recruits are trained to use torture to extract confessions.

Egyptian officials say they have introduced a human rights training program for police and a commission to investigate torture allegations. They also say cases of torture have fallen since 1999, but give no numbers. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights says it documented 120 deaths from torture from 1993 to 2004, 15 of them in the last year it counted.

Hafez Abu Saada, secretary general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, said his group reports some 400 cases of alleged police abuse a year. He said 20 percent result in prosecutions, and convictions are much rarer.

In 2002, eight police officers were convicted of torturing detainees to death and sentenced to between one and 10 years in prison. Two years later, three senior police officers were tried for torturing a prisoner to confess that he killed his daughter, who turned out to be alive. Their sentences ranged from one to three years, but they were acquitted in a retrial.

© 2007 The Associated Press