Torture in Egypt is a state policy so deeply entrenched, an uprising as significant as the 2011 revolution, which ended President Hosni Mubarak’s almost thirty-year rule, not only failed to eradicate it, but witnessed its increase in both scope and brutality.
One of the central demands of the revolution was ending police violence and the practice of torturing political prisoners. Today, according to a damning report by Amnesty International, on average, three to four people are abducted and arbitrarily subjected to enforced disappearance every day. Many are held in unknown locations for months at a time and often kept blindfolded and handcuffed for the entire period. Those who have resurfaced, usually in detention centers across the country, have told harrowing stories of abuse.
For over twenty years, victims and their families had an invaluable ally in the El Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and Violence. It was the only centre that provided support for the spiralling number of men and women victimized by torture and sexual violence in Egypt’s prisons. It did so by focusing on the psychological rehabilitation of victims, as well as pro bono legal support and public awareness raising.
For a regime convinced of the need to extinguish every last whisper of dissent, the El Nadeem Centre was a real nuisance. After a year of judicial harassment and two major raids on its offices, the government finally managed to shut it down on February 9, 2017.
“El Nadeem provides crucial psychological support to torture victims and is a credible public voice when the Egyptian authorities try to silence the victims. We know from our members around the world that torture inflicts terrible damage to individuals, families and societies,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) in a statement calling the closure unjustifiable. “It is high time that all of us who believe in human rights and democracy take a close look at Egypt.”
While human rights groups in Egypt have always operated under hostile circumstances, they still managed to sustain a vibrant civil society, documenting and exposing government and military violations even during Mubarak’s rule. After the 2011 revolution, there were high hopes that they would take a more active role in the transition to democracy. Instead, as evident by the El Nadeem Centre’s case, civil society’s very survival is in danger these days.
El Nadeem is refusing to give up. It has filed a lawsuit against the court order and announced that its doctors and lawyers will continue to offer telephone assistance to victims of torture, until further notice.