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Cablegate: Activists Believe Police Brutality Continues

DE RUEHEG #2164/01 3211527
R 171527Z NOV 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CAIRO 002164



E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/17/2029

REF: A. CAIRO 2064
B. CAIRO 1778
C. CAIRO 1182
D. CAIRO 814
E. CAIRO 451
F. CAIRO 243
H. 07 CAIRO 3214

Classified By: Economic-Political Minister-Counselor Donald A. Blome for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1.KEY POINTS -- (C) Human rights lawyers believe police brutality continues to be a pervasive, daily occurrence in prisons, police stations and Interior Ministry State Security (SSIS) headquarters. -- (C) The lawyers assert that the police and SSIS have adapted to increased media and blogger focus on police brutality by hiding the abuse and pressuring victims not to bring cases. -- (C) The GOE and its supporters claim that police brutality is unusual, and is committed by a small minority of officers. -- (C) Human rights lawyers believe the GOE should reduce pressure on officers to solve cases immediately, allow suspects to be accompanied by an attorney during questioning in police detention, and amend the laws to increase the penalties for brutality. We are working to resume USG-funded human rights-oriented police training.

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2.(C) Comment: The NGOs' assessments are credible, but largely impressionistic, based on lawyers' contact with victims and review of brutality cases. Although planned USG-funded training would be a step forward, the overall scope of police brutality will probably not change until the GOE undertakes significant procedural and possibly legislative reforms. Following a landmark 2007 sentencing of police officers for assaulting and sodomizing a bus driver, courts have continued to sentence officers to prison terms for brutality. End comment. -------------------------- A Pervasive, Daily Problem --------------------------

3.(C) Human rights lawyers believe police brutality continues unabated, or is increasing. Attorneys from XXXXXXXXXXXX, which specializes in brutality cases, asserted to us in October that officers abuse detainees in "every police station in Egypt." Contacts assess that the current lack of press and blogger reports and court cases is misleading, and only reflects MOI success in avoiding detection and pressuring victims not to bring cases. Multiple contacts told us that NGOs are only aware of about 10 percent of actual brutality incidents. (Note: These 10 percent estimates are speculative, and do not appear to be based on any quantitative study. The XXXXXXXXXXXX statistics appear to support the contention of increased brutality. XXXXXXXXXXXX documented 46 torture cases and 17 police brutality deaths from January 2008 to February 2009, compared with 40 torture cases and 3 police brutality deaths in 2007. End note.) -------------------------------- Police Adapting to New Realities --------------------------------

4.(C) Contacts speculated that police brutality incidents decreased slightly in 2007 due to the sentencing that year of two police officers to three years in prison for assaulting and sodomizing bus driver Imad El-Kebir (ref H). Prominent blogger Wael Abbas posted a cell phone video of the assault on his blog, and the case set off unprecedented media and blogger attention on police brutality. Since the El-Kebir case, courts have sentenced other officers to prison time for brutality. Most recently, on November 7 a court sentenced an officer to five years in prison for beating a disabled man in 2008. Contacts assess that although the police initially reacted to the El-Kebir conviction by decreasing their abuse of detainees, the MOI subsequently decided on a strategy of hiding abuse from the public.

5.(C) Human rights lawyer XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that the MOI's strategy stems from its belief that officers need to rely on brutality to extract confessions and solve crimes quickly. CAIRO 00002164 002 OF 003 (Note: Egyptian law requires the police to either release a suspect after 24 hours of initial detention, or transfer the suspect to the Public Prosecutor's Office for investigation. Contacts believe that officers face pressure from supervisors to extract a confession within this 24 hour period. End note.) XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that in 2008 the MOI issued informal orders that resulted in officers abusing prisoners between the hours of 3 AM and 6 AM so that members of the public would be less likely to witness or hear the abuse.

6.(C) According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, the police threaten their victims with increased detention to dissuade them from filing cases. Many victims, XXXXXXXXXXXX said, have been involved in criminal activity, and the police can easily keep them in detention. An example of the police successfully using this tactic is a February 2009 case of video-recorded police sodomy in Cairo, which Wael Abbas posted on his blog (ref F). XXXXXXXXXXXX told us at the time that the victim signed a statement that the recording was fabricated in exchange for his release (ref C). XXXXXXXXXXXX said the MOI has also begun a campaign of engaging with the press to convince journalists not to publish stories alleging police brutality. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, MOI officers offer to be sources on non-brutality related stories if newspapers agree not to publish brutality allegations. --------------------------- Worse Brutality Outside Cairo ---------------------------

7.(C) Lawyers from XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that police offices in smaller cities or villages believe they have more power and less accountability, and therefore abuse suspects more. XXXXXXXXXXXX assessed that abuse is especially pronounced in rural villages where police victimize the poor who have little access to legal representation. XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that police brutality is worse in Alexandria than in Cairo because officers are less worried about detection in the relatively lax media environment. XXXXXXXXXXXX described a July case where officers intervened on behalf of a "politically-connected" landowner to arrest and abuse the guards of his rival in a real estate dispute. --------------------------- The GOE's Version of Events ---------------------------

8.(C) GOE officials tell us that police brutality is unusual, and is committed by a small number of young officers who are immediately punished. In March, the Interior Minister told the Ambassador that police brutality only occurs in "isolated incidents." He also disputed the EOHR's claim of 13 deaths in police stations over the previous 8 months, saying that the deaths resulted from natural causes (ref E). In October, MFA Deputy Director for Human Rights Omar Shalaby repeated to us the same position that there is no pattern of police brutality.

9.(C) GOE supporters also promote this position. Ambassador Ahmed Haggag, detailed from the MFA to direct the UN Development Program's (UNDP) human rights training, asserted to us in October that police brutality is decreasing because of his work and increased public awareness. The UNDP program includes lectures for police officers on the illegality of abuse, but human rights contacts assess that these efforts are not effective. The Al-Naqib Center NGO, whose director is believed to be close to SSIS, issued a Freedom House-funded report in September on police brutality in three governorates, claiming the project had "halted torture" in one Delta Governorate. (Freedom House used USAID grant money to fund the report, but selected and ran the project independently of the USG.) The report concludes by questioning whether torture in police stations "still exists." Human rights contacts criticized the report as completely inaccurate. --------------- The Way Forward ---------------

10.(C) Contacts have suggested to us several ways the GOE could combat police brutality. They believe the MOI needs to reduce pressure on officers to extract quick confessions. Contacts also stress that the police should allow detained suspects to have a lawyer present during questioning. Egyptian law does not require that suspects detained at police stations be accompanied by a lawyer during questioning, and contacts assert that attorneys currently CAIRO 00002164 003 OF 003 have "no access" to suspects while they are in police detention. The law does not delineate a suspect's specific rights during police detention, and activists believe the GOE should enact amendments guaranteeing the right to remain silent. Contacts favor legislative changes to expand the definition of torture (the law defines torture only in the context of extracting confessions) and increase the penalties, reforms which the National Council for Human Rights recommended in May (ref D). We are working with the MOI to resume USG-funded human rights-oriented police training (ref B), which we plan to focus on interrogation skills, international standards and using moderate force. Scobey

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