Egyptian lawyer interrogated for drafting anti-torture law

Negad El Borai might face jail time for drafting a law that counters police abuse and torture, which shows the restriction of freedoms in Egypt.

al-monitor People walk in front of a graffiti of activist Khaled Said near Tahrir Square on the third anniversary of Said's death, June 6, 2013. Said, 28, was beaten to death by police in Alexandria in June 2010 after he posted a video showing police officers sharing the spoils of a drugs bust, according to his family. Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh.

Topics covered

torture, prisons, january 25 revolution, human rights violations, human rights, egyptian police, cairo, abdel fattah al-sisi

Jun 15, 2015

CAIRO — In Egypt, attempting to counter police abuse and torture could lead to being interrogated and jailed — no matter what a person's status is.

Prominent lawyer Negad El Borai has recently been questioned three times, the last time on June 1, by an investigative judge after he worked on drafting a law that counters police abuse and torture in prisons, detention centers and police stations.

Judges Hisham Raouf and Assem Abdel-Gabbar have also been interrogated for supervising the drafting of the law. The interrogation followed a complaint from the Supreme Judicial Council against the two judges, accusing them of cooperating with Borai to draft the law.

Borai is a well-known human rights advocate, leading the legal unit at the United Group for Law. He is also a columnist for the independent Al-Shorouk newspaper.

The investigative judge interrogating Borai accused him of running an illegal firm that receives foreign funds.

“The United Group for Law is a recognized legal firm operating since 1943. … We work on human rights cases out of social responsibility," Borai told Al-Monitor.

Human rights lawyer Mohsen el-Bahnasy told Al-Monitor, “Legally, drafting a law is not a crime … but to find a justification for interrogating Borai the investigative judge came up with this accusation."

In January 2014, Borai resigned from Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights, protesting its politicized and contradictory stance toward human rights abuses in the country.

The interrogation of Borai is believed to be a reaction to a workshop held on March 11 by the United Group for Law to discuss the draft law with more than 50 legal experts before presenting it to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on May 6.

“The interrogation proves there is an ongoing tendency to nail human rights advocates in Egypt,” Borai said. “I did nothing to be ashamed of. I’m proud of everything I did in the field of human rights and I'm ready for the consequences."

The draft law consists of 10 articles including definitions that are based on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In addition, it includes, for the first time in Egypt, a provision that holds the director of the prison or detention center criminally responsible for any torture incident committed inside the facility he is responsible for.

Moreover, the draft law involves, also for the first time, a request to allocate a public prosecutor for every court to investigate the referred torture case, as well as specialized police to collect the findings of such crimes.

Egyptian prisons, detention centers and police stations have become known for recurrent abuses of detainees, according to recent human rights reports.

Over the last 18 months, the United Group for Law has filed 163 complaints before the public prosecution, of about 465 claims of torture committed inside detention centers. On June 3, a joint statement released by 18 Egyptian human rights groups read, "Yet the prosecution did not instantly respond to the complaints. … On the other hand, the only serious measures are those taken against Borai and the two judges [not the alleged perpetrators of these incidents].”

The human rights groups claimed that the interrogation of the three figures is a bid to nail them because of their announced stances that support the independence of the judiciary and their calls for ending the politicization of the judicial authority.

“Borai has been working on this draft law for a long time, holding several workshops to discuss it and the concerned authorities knew this,” Bahnasy said. “The fact that those who drafted an anti-torture law faced interrogation shows that liberties have been restricted since the June 30 [coup that toppled the regime of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi] … and that authorities are nailing those who document such violations."

El-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence documented dozens of police abuses in May alone. The report monitored 49 cases of torture and 20 cases of medical negligence in Egyptian prisons. Torture and deaths of detainees have also frequently occurred inside four police stations in Cairo

“The state of human rights in Egypt has been deteriorating as [police] torture has become systematic,” Borai said.

The alleged police violations were one of the main triggers of the January 25 Revolution in 2011 that led to the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

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