Egyptian Internet Torture Video Shakes Police Sense of Impunity
``No, Pasha,'' cried out Imad Kabir, a 21-year-old minibus driver recorded on a cell-phone video as he was tortured at a Cairo police station. ``No!''
An off-screen voice answered, in vulgarities, to the effect that the police would show the video to Kabir's associates to reveal the lesser kind of man he was.
They hung Kabir upside down and sodomized him with a rod. The police then distributed the video by phone to Kabir's co- workers at a Cairo bus stop, Egyptian authorities said.
The video eventually found its way onto the Internet. When it did, the story took a surprising turn. It became not just a vivid example of torture in the Middle East's most populous country; it also undermined the torturers' sense of security. Two policemen have been jailed in the incident.
``The fact that the people who tortured Imad Kabir videotaped their crime suggests they thought they could get away with it,'' Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, said in a Jan. 12 statement. ``The government must end the shadowy culture of impunity that the video exposed.''
Egypt, a U.S. ally, was singled out two years ago by President George W. Bush as ripe for democratization. The nation's commitment to reform has been cast into doubt since then by allegations of electoral fraud last year, arrests of peaceful demonstrators and the new revelations of torture.
A Tool of Protest
The Internet grew into a common tool of political protest last year, during Egypt's upsurge of street demonstrations. Bloggers armed with video phones recorded police beating demonstrators and posted them online.
Some were arrested and detained for as long as two months; one, Mohammed Sharqawi, said police inserted a roll of paper in his anus while he was in custody. Still, at least half a dozen videos of police abusing prisoners have appeared on the Internet in the past few months.
While torture in Egypt has long been denounced by human- rights groups, the horrifying videos have made it far more public. ``Torture remains widespread and systematic and now torture allegations are being supported by graphic evidence as more videos of torture and other ill treatment have been posted on the Internet,'' Amnesty International, the London-based watchdog group, said Jan. 7.
Breaking Up a Scuffle
Kabir's saga began in January 2006, when he was arrested for trying to break up a scuffle between his brother and police. Kabir wasn't charged with a crime.
In November, 2006, with the video spreading all over Cairo, Kabir filed a complaint with the police over his treatment. In the meantime, political blogger Mohammed Khaled saw the video and posted it on his Web site. A reporter for the independent Al-Fagr newspaper viewed it and tracked down Kabir. So did lawyer Nasr Amin of the Cairo-based Center for the Independence of the Judiciary, who took up Kabir's grievance.
``I got sick to my stomach when I saw the video,'' Amin said in an interview. ``Thousands of torture complaints have been brought to prosecutors by men and other rights lawyers, but they came to nothing. The bloggers managed to upset things.''
On Dec. 27, two policemen, Islam Nabih and Reda Fathi, were jailed for abusing Kabir; their trial is scheduled for March. But they aren't the only ones to be imprisoned. After Kabir complained, prosecutors charged with him with assault for the original confrontation with police. On Jan. 8, he was sentenced to three months in jail. ``It's ridiculous,'' Amin said.
The Egyptian government says Kabir's treatment in custody was an exception. ``These are isolated incidents,'' Interior Ministry official Ahmad Diaa said in an interview broadcast on Al-Mehwar, a privately owned television station. ``There are mistakes committed by any social group. Police also make mistakes.''
Diaa also threatened bloggers with legal action for posting the video; Egyptian law forbids publication of information that could defame the country. ``If you turn blogs into news Web sites, you have to stick to media ethics, or you could risk legal repercussions,'' he said.
Mohammed Khaled, 24, whose blog Demaghmak (Mak's Brain) first posted the Kabir video, said he came across it by accident when looking over a neighbor's collection of cell-phone videos. He said the video has received 33,000 hits on his blog. It has also migrated to YouTube, the global video-sharing service that has millions of viewers.
``The genie's out of the bottle,'' said Khaled. ``The police thought they could spread fear. They just showed the world who they are.''
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