Egypt prison guards accused of torture death

Man’s death after allegedly being filled with water from hoses raises comparison to case that helped spark revolution.

Egypt violence
A Facebook page to honour Khalid Said, beaten to death by police in 2010, became a hub for anti-regime protests [EPA]

A 24-year-old Egyptian man sentenced by a military court to two years in prison has been tortured to death by his guards, the man’s family and human rights activists have alleged.

Guards at Cairo’s Tora Prison, where Essam Atta was being held, pushed hoses into Atta’s mouth and anus and flooded his body with water on Thursday, according to the man’s family, who said they received calls from other inmates who had seen the torture occur. 

Atta was pronounced dead at the capital’s Kasr el-Aini hospital on Thursday night and protesters marched with his body through Tahrir Square on Friday.

His case is at least the second incident of alleged deadly police torture since the January revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak and was in large part a reaction to such government abuses. In May, the interior ministry ordered an investigation into the death of Ramzi Salaheddine, who died in hospital after arriving with a broken pelvis and three broken ribs following a police interrogation.

On Friday, after protests demanding a swift transfer from military to civilian rule dissipated in Tahrir Square, crowds gathered again to receive Atta’s open casket and voice their anger.

Case that sparked revolution

His death drew immediate comparison to the case of 28-year-old Khaled Said, an Alexandria businessman who was dragged out of an internet cafe and beaten to death by two police officers in 2010. Said’s death spawned the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page, a key organising tool that aided the revolution. His killers were sentenced to seven years in prison this week.

Mahmoud Salah Mahmoud (L) and Awad Ismael (R) were convicted of beating Said to death [EPA]

Egyptian authorities had also portrayed Said as a drug dealer, claiming that he died after choking on a packet of drugs he swallowed to hide them from police.

Government officials and state media have said that Atta died of a severe drop in blood pressure and heart failure resulting from drug poisoning.

An Egyptian security official said prison medics found that Atta had taken drugs and was suffering from exhaustion. When his condition worsened, he was taken to the hospital, where he died, the official said.

Malik Adly, a lawyer who is representing Atta’s family and has campaigned against military trials, told Al Jazeera that it may take a week until an official autopsy report reaches the prosecutor general and possible criminal charges can be considered.

Calls from prison

Atta called his mother from prison on Wednesday to tell her about the torture and said it was retribution for smuggling in a mobile phone SIM card, she said, according to al-Masry al-Youm newspaper.

Fellow inmates then called Atta’s father on Thursday to tell him guards were again torturing his son with the same method and that Atta had vomited blood and fallen unconscious, the newspaper reported.

Atta was pronounced dead after being delivered by an officer from the prison, according to Adly.

Blood, foam and water were leaking from Atta’s orifices, he said. On Friday evening, journalists and activists shared images of Atta’s body on Facebook and Twitter. One showed bloody foam coming from his mouth.

Aida Seif el-Dawla, of the Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture, first broke the news of Atta’s death with a Facebook post on Thursday.

‘We are all Essam Atta’

Popular anger over the use of torture was a key grievance behind the mass uprising that toppled Mubarak in February. Activists see Atta’s death as an indication that Egypt’s new rulers have expended little effort to stamp it out.

Atta was arrested on February 25 during street fighting between Christians and fundamentalist Salafi Muslims in Cairo’s Moqattam neighbourhood. He was convicted of “thuggery” and illegally occupying a housing unit during a military trial that month.

The government says Atta was previously convicted of possessing a weapon without a license in 2010 and drug dealing in 2004.

Activists say that the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces, which took power after Mubarak’s overthrow, has failed to purge the interior ministry of top-ranking officers from the former regime. Atta’s death, coming close after the Khaled Said verdict, is evidence to them that a culture of brutality inside the security forces has not changed.

Within hours of Atta’s death, someone created a Facebook page called “We are all Essam Atta,” which contained photos of his dead body with white foam filling his mouth and gauze binding his head and hands.

The alleged torture case sparked protests outside the morgue, where the body of Atta had been sent for inspection. Video posted on activist websites showed mourners carrying Atta’s body, lying in an open coffin wrapped in the Egyptian flag, and marching through Cairo streets to Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the anti-Mubarak uprising.

Behind Atta’s coffin, protesters chanted, “Essam Atta died. Oh people, enough silence!” and “Down, down with military rule”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies