Latest alleged torture death in Egypt prompts public outcry against SCAF

The death of Essam Atta, who was reportedly tortured to death in Cairo’s Torah Prison on Thursday, is sure to further encourage popular discontent with Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

According to the Cairo-based El-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, police officers punished Atta for smuggling a mobile-phone SIM card into his cell by inserting hoses into his mouth and anus, which reportedly led to bleeding and caused his subsequent death.

The 24-year-old was arrested on 25 February in relation to the illegal occupation of an apartment and, after being tried by a military court, sentenced to two years in Tora Prison, in which a number of former Mubarak regime figures are currently being held.

Members of Atta’s family, who had been preparing to appeal the court verdict, said that Atta had contacted them on Wednesday to say he had been mistreated by prison guards.

The latest incident comes only one day after two policemen were each given seven-year jail terms for a similar crime – the murder last year of 28-year-old Khaled Said in Alexandria – a charge seen by many activists as far too lenient.

“Who will hold the army accountable for the death of Essam Atta?” asked Heba Raouf, a political science professor at Cairo University. “Who will protect the rights of civilians like Essam – even if they are petty criminals?”

The SCAF is already struggling to appease protesters and activists following numerous human rights violations committed by authorities since the council assumed power in February after the ouster of longstanding president Hosni Mubarak.

Many had hoped the departure of Mubarak, under whom police torture had become routine, would see an end to such practices. Almost nine months later, however, such optimism appears to have been misplaced, with many activists and political observers going so far as to question the SCAF’s intentions.

The military council, for its part, has vowed to hand over executive power to an elected, civilian authority, although it has so far failed to set a definite timetable for highly-anticipated presidential elections.

The SCAF has already come under fire for referring some 12,000 civilians to military courts and imposing restrictions on media coverage. The military council has also been censured for repeated abuses against protesters, including conducting “virginity tests” on female detainees in March and clashing with Coptic Christian demonstrators in Cairo’s Maspero district earlier this month, leaving 26 dead.

Analysts note that, while the council has repeatedly stressed its readiness to accept criticism of its management of the current transitional period, its actions appear to contradict this.

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