Hamada Khalil never knew that a personal dispute with a low-ranking officer in Imbaba police station in 2009 would lead to his own death five years later.
Khalil’s brother Mahmoud recounted to journalists and rights activists in a press conference, dubbed “The Ministry of Interior is a ministry of torture,” the family’s journey since Hamada’s death in April, seeking retribution from his killers.
Khalil, 32, is a lawyer who attempted to pay bail for one of his friends at Imbaba police station on April 13, when he allegedly met with a low-ranking officer named Ahmed al-Tayeb, with whom he was involved in a personal dispute.
“A fight erupted between the two before Hamada was taken to one of the station’s prison cells,” Mahmoud said. The low-ranking officer later allegedly fired three live shots at Khalil that immediately killed him.
“Since then, we have been fighting with the justice system. The Interior Ministry released two different statements half an hour after his death, alleging in one of them that Hamada was affiliated with the Brotherhood. Everyone in Imbaba knows my brother was anti-Brotherhood,” he explained.
Police officers at the station, the brother claims, requested that Hamada’s body be taken directly from the morgue to the cemetery, without a funeral from Imbaba.
“They knew his popularity and that it would be a big funeral, full of anger against police practices. We refused, but it was actually big,” Mahmoud recounted, stressing the family’s inability to access the prosecution’s investigations records.
According to Mahmoud, the only record the family managed to access was the one by Imbaba police station itself, which stated that Hamada had died upon arrival at the hospital.
Contrary to this, Mahmoud showed those at the press conference the hospital’s report, confirming that Hamada was dead on arrival.
“The Ministry of Interior is not a ministry, it is like a family or a clan that [covers up the crimes] of its members. They stand with each other,” the grieving brother said.
The low-ranking officer is also allegedly accused of killing 12 protesters in front of Imbaba police station on January 28, and many residents filed complaints against him, including torture accusations, according to Hamada’s brother.
The press conference that was organized by “Freedom for the Good Men” campaign, “A Homeland without Torture” campaign, and the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, included similar testimonies of families of prisoners who were randomly arrested.
These testimonies included that of Abdel Rahman Sayed, a 17-year-old secondary school student, who was arrested on March 15 while shopping downtown. Sayed’s family says that they had no information on their son for a month and a half before finding out he was being detained in a military prison on terrorism charges.
Mohamed Moussa, a 19-year-old sophomore literature student at Ain Shams University, was arrested on the third anniversary of the January 25 revolution from Ramses Station, while coming back from temporary work at Cairo International Airport.
Moussa was tortured in Azbakiya and Qasr al-Nil police stations and later at Abu Zaabal prison, before a Criminal Court sentenced him and several others to two years in prison for protesting without notifying police forces.
Tarek Youssef and his brother Mahmoud were both arrested on the revolution’s third anniversary from two different locations. Mahmoud — who was released as part of the Maadi detainees’ case — said that his brother Tarek was imprisoned for 102 days on charges of protesting and has been continuously subjected to torture in prison.
“These are the stories of torture we keep hearing about since establishing the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims. Torture never stops. Torture is a state policy,” said veteran rights activist Aida Seif al-Dawla.
She pointed out that the consistency in torture crimes across different regimes that have ruled Egypt over the last 30 years reveals the real rulers of the country. “It is not the president, not the parliament, not the Supreme Constitutional Court, it is the security apparatus,” she affirmed.
She applauded the courage of those subjected to torture that speak about their experiences, which she says challenges “the philosophy of torture that depends on breaking the will of those tortured.”
Novelist Ahdaf Soueif explained the mismatch between the freedoms granted in the newly-passed constitution and the practices of state actors on the ground regarding respecting human rights.
“When we opposed articles in the constitution related to the militarization of the state, [members of the constituent assembly] used the chapter of rights and freedoms to make us swallow the constitution. Now this chapter is only ink on paper,” she explained.
The veteran rights activist also said that most of the rights and freedoms granted in the constitution need to be complemented by laws that activate them. “But, we all know that for a law to be passed, two-thirds of the parliamentary members have to agree on it. When will we have a parliament? Will we ever have a parliamentary majority willing to push for such laws?” she asked.
One of the major legal obstacles that lawyers face while working on torture cases is the failure of the Egyptian legal system to effectively define torture, a lawyer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Reda Marea explained.
Article 126 of the Penal Code maintains that, “Every public servant that gives orders for the torture of a defendant, or does so by him/her self” should be imprisoned for three to ten years. “If the victim is killed, [the public servant] is punished for attempted murder.”
According to Marea, a case is only considered a torture case if the victim is a defendant, or when the torture forces the victim to give a confession. “In most of the torture cases, those who commit the crime have escaped justice, either because the victim was not a defendant, or the intention to use force to obtain a confession was not proven,” he explained.
Marea referred to the definition from the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment from 1984, which the Egyptian government is party to.
The convention defines torture as: “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by, or at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of, a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.”
Although it was agreed upon by the constituent assembly that drafted the constitution to include the previous definition, for some unknown reasons, it was never included. Yet, the constitution stipulated in another article, Egypt’s commitment to all international human rights conventions that it had agreed upon previously, which means that such a definition is still part of the country’s legal system.