A string of deaths in custody has thrown the spotlight on torture and horrific detention conditions at a police station in the Mattareya district of Cairo where at least three people died last week.

Deaths in custody

Two of the deaths took place on the same day last week and according to the forensic authority in Cairo, one of the bodies bore marks consistent with torture or other ill-treatment. Since April 2014 at least nine detainees have died at Mattareya Police Station according to information gathered by Amnesty International, yet so far investigations have been half-hearted and no one has been held accountable.

“The pattern of deaths in custody emerging at Mattareya Police Station is distressing. The authorities cannot continue to sweep rampant abuses under the carpet, and families are growing frustrated with the authorities’ unwillingness to hold perpetrators to account,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

Lack of accountability

“Rather than opening genuine investigations to shed light on the circumstances of the deaths, the authorities have announced investigations with the sole purpose of deflating criticism while at the same time shielding security forces from any criticism, let alone accountability. Those responsible for torture or other offences have to be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice.”

The head of the forensic authority in Cairo confirmed to Amnesty International that the bodies of three men who died at Mattareya Police Station had been received by the morgue last week.

Entrenched impunity and a near total lack of accountability for abuses among Egypt’s security forces has been a longstanding challenge.

Years of impunity have emboldened the Egyptian security forces who have effectively been granted the green light to continue torturing and otherwise ill-treating detainees without facing any consequences.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, Amnesty International

“Years of impunity have emboldened the Egyptian security forces who have effectively been granted the green light to continue torturing and otherwise ill-treating detainees without facing any consequences,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

121 deaths since the beginning of 2014

According to a list compiled by local activists and the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms organization, there have been at least 121 deaths in custody in Egypt since the beginning 2014. The causes of death vary between deprivation of medical care, natural deaths and torture.

Poor detention conditions

The head of the forensic authority in Cairo said that there has been a rise of deaths in police stations as many detainees sentenced to one year or less serve their sentence in police stations rather than prisons, due to chronic overcrowding in prisons. Police stations are not equipped to hold high numbers of detainees who suffer as a result of poor detention conditions. He added that deaths of those in custody have included deatinees held on both criminal and political charges.

International law and standards require that pre-trial detention be the exception, not the rule. Other means, including release on bail, should be considered to ensure that persons charged but not convicted are available for trial. Detainees should also be held separately from convicted prisoners.

Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council

States at the UN Human Rights Council had called on Egypt to protect detainees from torture and other ill-treatment during the country’s Universal Periodic Review examination last November. Egypt denied that tortured occurred “in prisons”, also claiming that perpetrators of torture had been held to account.

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“As Egypt stands before the Human Rights Council again this March and pledges to make human rights reforms, it can no longer deny the appalling abuses that are taking place in its police stations,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“By failing to tackle such abuses the Egyptian authorities are making a mockery of the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.”

Egypt is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.