Purported videos of torture sessions in Egyptian detention centers, posted on the Internet by a human rights activist, have led to the arrest of two police officers and raised new questions about interrogation practices in a country that already has a bad track record for human rights abuses.
The videos posted by an Egyptian blogger, Wael Abbas, purport to show a bus driver being sodomized with a rod, a female murder suspect hung upside down and a policeman repeatedly slapping a suspect.
Abbas circulated the videos, which were taken using cell phones, on the popular YouTube Web site.
They got the attention of the press, and Abbas was interviewed on a number of Arab television stations. Two police officers who allegedly participated in sodomizing the bus driver were arrested and will face charges in March, according to press reports.
This week a journalist working on a documentary about torture in Egypt for al Jazeera was charged with spreading false news that could "harm national interest" and "possessing and giving false pictures about the internal situation in Egypt that could undermine the dignity of the country." Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage.
Al Jazeera insisted the tapes found with Huwaida Metwalli contained re-enactment scenes, which they said were a legitimate production technique for the documentary. Human rights and journalist organizations issued statements condemning the government's charges against the journalist.
The goal is to stop the documentary and send "a chilling message" to other journalists who might think about addressing the issue of torture, Elijah Zarwan, a Cairo-based researcher for Human Rights Watch told ABC News. "Rather than eradicating torture, the government is eradicating coverage of torture and targeting journalists," said Zarwan, adding that it shows Egypt is not serious about tackling the problem.
The Human Rights Watch 2007 report about Egypt said the organization "continues to receive credible reports that security services and police routinely torture and mistreat detainees."
Zarwan says Egypt needs to change its definition of torture to fit international standards. He explains that the current definition does not include psychological harm, for example.
Also, suspects who claim to have been tortured are often not seen by a doctor for weeks, which makes it difficult to establish if and how they were tortured, he says.
Another important step would be dropping emergency laws, which give the government broad powers and allow it to detain people without charging them.