/ 5 November 2007

Egypt jails police in sodomy torture case

An Egyptian court on Monday jailed two police officers for three years for sodomising a detainee with a stick in torture shown in widely distributed video footage that sparked nationwide outrage.

The Cairo Criminal Court jailed Islam Nabih (28) and Reda Fatih (25) for torturing and sexually abusing minibus driver Imad al-Kabir in January last year, in a rare case of security forces members being sentenced for abusing detainees.

In court, al-Kabir shouted ”Allahu akbar [God is great]” when the sentences were handed down.

The two officers faced up to 15 years in prison, but Judge Samir Abul Mati said that ”because the accused are young and inexperienced” he had been lenient.

”It’s not very common for an Egyptian court to convict police officers,” Human Rights Watch spokesperson Gasser Abel-Razek said. ”But regarding the sentencing it’s a very low sentence considering the crimes.”

Nasser Amin, the lawyer who brought the case, said the verdict was ”the heaviest sentencing of police for torture in 20 years”.

Amin, who also heads the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary, said he was satisfied with the verdict, which sent a message that ”police officers will not be protected if they carry out such crimes”.

”Egyptian justice has decided no longer to ignore this kind of crime,” he said.

Al-Kabir had intervened in a fight between his cousin and a police officer, and for this he was arrested and taken to Bulaq al-Dakrur police station and tortured, according to his testimony to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The abuse was filmed with a cellphone camera and the video began to appear on blogs and websites in Egypt later in 2006, sparking an outcry and extensive media coverage that resulted in the arrest of the two police officers.

Al-Kabir was subsequently sentenced to three months in prison in January for ”resisting authority”.

Abel Razek said that the fact that al-Kabir had himself been sentenced was ”one negative thing [given] the general fear that people have of police”.

”This low sentencing [of the police] will also in a way stop people coming forward,” he said.

Rights groups say that torture by security forces is widespread in Egypt and that most cases go unpunished.

In August, a 13-year-old boy died in hospital four days after police brought him there because he lost consciousness while in their custody on a theft charge. In that case, the Interior Ministry said burns on the boy’s body were accidental and that he had died from a pulmonary infection.

Last month, an Egyptian court acquitted a state security officer of charges of torturing to death a man he had arrested in 2003. The autopsy said he died because of torture by electric shock combined with a weak heart. — Sapa-AFP