Saturday, November 3, 2012

Activists rally to end prison torture in Egypt

CAIRO (Reuters) - About 1,000 activists rallied in Cairo on Saturday demanding an end to brutality in Egyptian prisons and calling for a ban on torture in the new constitution.

Islamist president Mohamed Mursi was elected in June following 16 months of rule by the army council that took over after Hosni Mubarak's overthrow last year. During the council's rule, some 12,000 civilians were tried by army courts and many of them were tortured in prisons, according to rights groups.

Aida Seif al-Dawla, of the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, spoke on a stage on Saturday and told the crowds that the group has documented 150 cases of torture in the 100 days since Mursi took office.

"Mursi is following in Mubarak's footsteps," Dawla said.

"Oh martyrs rest in peace, the struggle continues," chanted the demonstrators, who hung up on nearby street walls posters showing the disfigured faces and bodies of torture victims.

"No torture - is that too much to ask?" read a poster carried by members of campaign group A Nation without Torture.

The protest, which took place near the Interior Ministry, commemorated the death of Essam Atta, a young Egyptian whose family said he was tortured to death by authorities in October last year while held in Torah prison south of Cairo.

An army court had jailed Atta for two years in February 2011 for offences including "thuggery". His family accused prison officers of torturing him by inserting a hose in his mouth and anus and pumping water and soap into his body causing mass bleeding that led to his death.

"All I ask of our new president is to treat Essam as though he were one of his own children and seek justice for him and for the other martyrs," cried Enaam Youssef, Atta's mother, who was present at the event with her daughters.

Rights groups have compared Atta's death to that of online activist Khaled Said, whose disfigurement and killing at the hands of police in Alexandria in 2010 was one of the factors that helped ignite the revolt that toppled Mubarak.

Human rights groups have demanded that Egypt's new constitution, which is being drawn up by a 100-strong assembly, explicitly ban torture.

(Additional reporting by Marwa Awad; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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