|Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Cairo, witnessed scenes of violence during his detention by the army
The Egyptian military has been secretly detaining and torturing those it suspects of being involved in pro-democracy protests, according to testimony gathered by the British newspaper the Guardian.
The newspaper, quoting human rights agencies, put the number of people detained at "hundreds, possibly thousands," since protests against Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, began on January 25.
While the military has said it is playing a neutral role in the political unrest, the newspaper quoted human rights campaigners as saying this was no longer the case, accusing the army of being involved in an organised campaign of disappearances, torture and intimidation.
Egyptians have long associated such crimes with the country's much-feared intelligence and security services, but not with the army.
"Their range is very wide, from people who were at the protests or detained for breaking curfew to those who talked back at an army officer or were handed over to the army for looking suspicious or for looking like foreigners even if they were not," Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told the Guardian.
"It's unusual and to the best of our knowledge it's also unprecedented for the army to be doing this."
The country's army has denied the charges of illegal detention or torture.
"The armed forces denies any abuse of protesters. The armed forces sticks to the principle of protecting peaceful protesters and it has never, nor will it ever, fire at protesters," an armed forces source told Reuters.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Safwat El Zayat, a retired general in the Egyptian military, categorically denied the allegations made in the Guardian report, saying that the report was "aimed at damaging the reputation of the army, which always stands by the people and not the regime".
The report said that the detained included human rights activists, lawyers and journalists, and that human rights groups have "documented the use of electric shocks on some of those held by the army".
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The newspaper quoted a man who said he was detained by the army while on his way to Tahrir Square, the focal point of protests in Cairo, with medical supplies.
The man said he was accused of working with "foreign enemies", beaten and then hauled to an army post, where his hands were tied behind his back.
In addition to hitting him, the soldiers also allegedly threatened him with rape.
Bahgat told the Guardian that it appears from the testimony of those who have been released that the military is conducting a campaign to try and break the protests.
"I think it's become pretty obvious by now that the military is not a neutral party," Heba Morayef, a researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Cairo, told the newspaper.
"The military doesn't want and doesn't believe in the protests and this is even at the lower level, based on the interrogations."
HRW says it has documented 119 cases of civilians being arrested by the military, but believes the actual number is much higher, as the army does not acknowledge the detentions.
The organisation told the Reuters news agency that it had documented at least five cases of torture, while one released detainee said he had seen at least 12 people given "electric shocks" on February 1.
Ayman Mohyeldin, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Cairo who was held by the military for several hours on February 6th, also witnessed scenes of violence during his detention.
Mohyeldin was held by the military while trying to enter Tahrir Square when he told soldiers at a checkpost that he was a journalist.
They questioned him regarding why he was there, and then, having tied his hands with plastic handcuffs, took him to a make-shift army post where he was interrogated and his equipment confiscated.
"I can tell you from what I saw and what I heard that a lot of [the detained] were beaten up, the military was dealing with them in a very aggresive manner," Mohyeldin said.
"They were slapped, they were kicked. The military was trying to essentially subdue them.
"In essence the military was dealing with these people as prisoners of war. These were individuals who were trying to plead for their safety, for their innocence.
"Many of them were crying, saying that they were simply just caught up in the wrong moment, but the military showed no mercy."
Mohyeldin said that some prisoners were quite badly beaten, while a soldier also used a taser gun to threaten prisoners. He said others showed evidence of having been whipped.
He said that prisoners at the post he was being held at were being treated aggresively by soldiers despite the fact that they were not being disobedient.
Mohyeldin also described how one protester, when initially detained, had claimed that he was an active member of the pro-democracy movement against Mubarak.
However, in just a few hours, the protester had broken down in tears and was willing to promise the soldiers that he would not return to Tahrir Square and that he was not really involved in protests.
All detainees who were released were made to sign a document that said that they would not attempt to return to Tahrir Square unless they obtained prior permission from the military.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies