A judge involved in an initiative to draft a law against torture was summoned for interrogation for the second time on Saturday.
Judge Hesham Raouf is being interrogated by investigating judge Abdel Shafy Osman, whom the Justice Ministry appointed to examine the case.
The civil society organization United Group spearheaded the initiative to draft legislation criminalizing torture in police stations and detention facilities.
Prominent lawyer and United Group director Negad al-Borai and judge Asem Abdel Gabbar are also involved in the case.
In addition to cooperating with the United Group, which is being judged to be an illegal organization, Gabbar and Raouf face charges related to political activity. A provision of Egyptian law prohibits members of the judiciary from taking political action and affiliating with or serving under a political party while still serving as a judge. While most courts have interpreted this measure as applicable to partisan activity, the statue’s language has afforded leeway to broad interpretations.
In a previous telephone interview with Mada Masr, Gabbar expressed astonishment at the decision to investigate the three men, explaining that this is not the first time he has helped draft legislation aimed at improving rights, and that he previously was involved in the proposal of legislation on freedom of information.
“The law in question is the same draft law that the Justice Ministry presented to the government in 2013, so I really do not understand what the problem is,” he asserted.
Borai has been interrogated five times in relation to a number of charges, including disseminating false information, disturbing public security, harming public interest, establishing an illegal group and receiving unauthorized foreign funding.
During an interrogation session in June, the National Security Agency presented Borai with a preliminary charge sheet accusing him of receiving funding from international entities aiming to bring down the Egyptian state and assembling young Egyptians to form political entities that employ “non-violent techniques” to incite the public to anti-government action.
Borai was also accused of “giving press comments that aim to incite public opinion against the state both inside the country and abroad, through the use of “the revolution of the minds.”
The draft the United Group authored proposes harsher sentences for those convicted of torture violations and places direct legal responsibility on the heads of police stations and detention facilities for incidents of torture, even if they were not personally involved in violations.
In a previous interview with Mada Masr concerning the case, Borai explained that there are two articles in particular in the draft law that are extremely critical.
“One holds the heads of prisons or detention centers responsible for torture practices, as many inmates cannot identify those who tortured them. So instead, we say, ‘You are the head of the prison. You are responsible for the safety and security of everyone in the prison. If something like torture happens, then you are responsible for it.’ We think this article is the reason why the state is against us, because it will push prison heads to give us the names of people who have been tortured,” he explained.
“The second important article is about compensation. We are advising a minimum of LE200,000-250,000 for torture survivors. They currently get LE10,000 or LE20,000, which we don’t think is enough. Even if we know who tortured them, the state is responsible and they should not pay less than LE200,000.”
Raouf prepared a study in 2014 titled “Torture is a crime against humanity” in which he strongly criticized the legal status of torture in Egypt’s Penal Code. In the study’s conclusion, Raouf wrote that major loopholes allow those who commit torture to evade punishment and recommended that all amendments to the Egyptian law should be in accord with international treaties against torture.
When Raouf, Gabbar and Borai were summoned for interrogation earlier this year, a number of rights organizations and political parties released a statement demanding an end to the questioning. Five political parties, along with 27 leading rights organizations, signed the statement asserting that the anti-torture bill benefits society and should have been hailed by the state and Supreme Judicial Council.
Raouf was not available for comment.