|News and opinions on situation in the Middle East|
|17/11/04||Testimonies of State Security Intelligence Victims in Arish and the city of Sheikh Zoayyed|
Thus spoke the people of North Sinai
Report of a fact finding visit undertaken by The Egyptian Association against Torture (Laila Soueif, Aida Seif El Dawla) Hisham Mubarak Law Center (Ahmed Seif El Islam Hamad) El Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victim of Violence (Magda Adly)
15 – 17 November 2004
We present this report without an introduction, without comments. the words of the victims suffice.
Important Note: Last Night, Tuesday the 23rd of November as we were preparing this report in its final version we received confirmed information that one of the young men whom we had met in that visit has been arrested by state security intelligence, where he spent two days, blindfolded and subject to barbaric forms of torture. He is lying now in one of the country hospitals suffering a paralysis in the right half of the body, loss of vision and inability to talk.
Cairo, 24th of November 2004
Day 1 15th of November 2004 Arish
It is the second day of the feast. but the streets of Arish are empty. there are no women around. no children running in the streets. there is no trace of a feast. there are no signs of a normal life.
140 women have been arrested as hostages. The official estimate by the person responsible for security in South and North Sinai estimates the number of detainees at 2500 not counting the hostages. He gave this number to the heads of tribes and members of the local councils and parliament. 320 of the hostages have been released on the eve of the feast, most of whose names have been published in the statement issued by the popular committee for citizen’s rights in the North of Sinai. Everybody who is released is threatened not to contact human rights organizations.
The face veil is pulled down the faces of women in the streets. No women dare walk in the streets on their own. Men have shaved their beards for fear of being suspected. Torture stories range between suspension from the arms which are tied behind the back in addition to pulling on the feet with a rope, electricity through clips attached to the toes; a bifurcated stick that looks like an oven lighter with three keys, which is put on sensitive body areas and results in melting of the skin and a smell of burning meat; they did not spare anybody. They detained even the mentally handicapped.
Questions asked to people: Do you like America? Do you like Israel? What do you think about Taba? Where do you pray? Whom do you know? What do you think of Amr Khaled (Islamic preacher) What do you think of Sheikh Kishk? (Islamic preacher)
The released say that some of the officers who attended the interrogations had red faces, shaved heads, wearing sunglasses and do not speak. They raided the mosques, putting paper bags on the heads of people and taking them along in police trucks.
One of the released, working in real estates:
I was sleeping. It was 6 o’clock in the morning. I found the police on top of my head. The house was full of officers and soldiers. I saw my nephew with them, handcuffed. I asked, what is going on? They said we have come to ask about your other nephew. Where is he? I do not know. We want to search the house. I said go ahead. They searched everything and they took a box with all the documents that I have, documents that provide evidence for my family properties for generations. They took my army certificate and my car license. They did not ask me anything, except where is your brother? Where is your sister in law? Where is your nephew?
They took me to the SSI office in Arish. They swore at my mother. He told me you son of a bitch. I screamed in his face and told them my mother’s shoe has more honor than all of you together. They hit me with a baton ten times on my head. There I found about 200 – 300 persons, screaming men and young women. Something like a horror movie. Not even in the cinema do you see something like that. I saw a woman who was breastfeeding her baby. I went into a state of sever agitation. I kept swearing at them and shouting. One of the officers said: he should not be here, he is too violent. After 10 minutes they took me to Cairo. I did not know. I thought they were taking me home. They took us to Tora prison. I had about 125 young men with me. There were six big police trucks.
For 20 days nobody to spoke to us. They blindfolded us. What is your name? My name is such. I told him we are the ones who fought in Sinai. My father was awarded the star of Sinai. We work in real estate. They asked me do you know Sheikh H? I told them he is my nephew. They asked me about another name. I told him he is my nephew. My nephew is a modest person. He believes in God and is religious. They asked me about somebody called Eyad and another called Hamid. They kept asking me about many names of people I do not know. The detainees there told us that people are making a lot of noise because of your arrest and that you will be soon released.
At the SSI screaming and shouting was everywhere. men and women. they swore at me and I swore back. I spent 10 minutes there, but they were ten minutes of hell. I saw torture on other people. I saw with my own eyes men whose nipples had melted. they electrified them in their nipples and other parts of their bodies. never in my life did I see anything like that. not even in my nightmares. the screams came from everywhere. from my left and right and from behind me and all that only in 10 minutes.
I am a fighter. I don’t care if I did. But if I am to live, is hall live in dignity.
We were taken to Tora. Those who followed us were taken to Damanhour (a city in the Delta of Egypt) I asked, what is going on? Why are we here? For 20 days our cells were closed until they started asking us. The interrogations would start at 10 p.m. and continue until dawn. They would take us one at a time and the one who finished leaves though another room until the next has entered the interrogation room. At night they used to take some of us to Lazoughli (Main SSI office in central Cairo). Some of them were taken together with their brothers and cousins. They beat them almost to death. They would wrap them in a blanket and throw them in the luggage store of the buses which brings them back to Tora. In Lazoughli they also took blood samples from us. Everybody who went to Lazoughli came back except the Sheikh. They electrified people there. Their skin would melt. They used to hand people by their arms and tie a gas tube to their feet so that their weights become heavier. If they did not do that they would tie a rope around their feet and pull hard so that they feel the pain more. The 120 people who left for Cairo with me have been brutally tortured before they were taken to Tora to stay. In Tora they brought a doctor who gave us medicine.
On our way to Cairo we had 15 women with us. They were probably dropped in barrages (Women prison there). They are relatives of sheikh Flefel (accused in the Taba bombing) they took the whole village, men, women and children (5 children).
My nephew’s wife gave herself up so that they release her younger brother whom they had taken hostage. They had taken him so that his elder brother gives himself up. They kept the two of them for 5 days and then they released them. (Seven members of this family were arrested, among them one woman)
The mother (an elderly woman)
They came around dawn. They had guns and pistols. They searched the house and our wardrobes. They asked about (M) and his wife. We told them we did not see them since the day they broke their fast with us on the first day of Ramadan. They took the little boy as a hostage until (M) gives himself up. And they took his brother. People are scared. the young woman went to give herself up so that they release her younger brother. They kept them for five days and then they released them. She was four months or three months pregnant. When she came out she aborted. A small piece of meat about 4 months old. Children were screaming and women were terrified. Even the men shaved their beards. They would pull the men from their beards and pull them out. The hair would come out in their hands stained with blood. What can I say? May god support us. He is our only rescue.
We split in two groups, one spoke to the women, the other spoke to the men, each in a separate floor in a family house.
The women were on the first floor. There were about ten women. most of them were married to brothers. Only two of the brothers are not in prison. Three were arrested. The first has five children, the second has four and the third has two children, of whom one is a 7 days old baby girl. Ten women and a large number of children running around. Three of the women have lost their husbands to SSI. A rumor says that one of them has died under torture. They did not see their husbands. They do not know where they are.
– they called him and told him your workshop has been robbed. that soldiers are guarding the workshop and that he should go. he went and they took him. we don’t know where he is until now. then they came to the house. the children were asleep and they woke up in terror. there were about 10 trucks in the street and two minibuses. they broke the doors and entered with their machine guns. they were dressed in black. their faces were covered with black cloth not showing anything but their eyes. they pointed their machine guns at us.
– I wan in my room and I heard the noise. I was covering my head before I go out to see what was happening. I found somebody trying to open the door. I tried to push the door to close it until I am ready. then the door was pushed so violently that it broke and hit me in the eye. half of my face was blue (blue bruises can be seen along the left side of her forehead and face). I did not go to the doctor. I was scared. we are scared of walking in the streets. since then they have been maltreating and humiliating people on the streets.
– They broke the door and walked in. they do not respect neither the privacy of homes nor the privacy of women. the caught the two, tied their arms behind their backs and made them lie face down on the floor. then they took them. I kept running in the flat out of fear. he pointed his machine gun towards my head and shouted that I should not make any noise.
– The kids were screaming out of fear. Until today the children refuse to stay in the apartment out of fear.
– The was a large number of cars on the street in front of the house and each car there was a senior official and a squad
– For twenty years we have lived under the occupation by the Jews. Nobody ever did this to us.
On the second floor were the men. we were met by an elderly man and next to him his older son.
I heard a loud noise. they broke the door and suddenly the place was full of machine guns, laser rays and masked people dressed completely in black. my wife screamed: did the Israelis come back?. they shouted back: we are the government. down on your face. And they hit me in the face. They asked: where is (M). They took (M) and left. The next day somebody called my second brother and told him that somebody had broken into his workshop ad that it was stolen. My brother went to see his workshop and never came back. We later found out that the police had broken the door of the workshop and searched it. Until now the workshop is surrounded by soldiers.
To that the father adds:
During the time of the occupation I hid seven soldiers and 2 Egyptian officers in my house. I hid them for 20 days and I helped them escape. Until today they call me up to ask about my whereabouts. why should we bear all this from the government. the occupation did not do to us what they are doing to us. what is going on?
One of the released
On the 7th of November they asked about me and I was not at home. they took my brother. I went to them next morning. I told them I am coming instead of my brother. they took me and did not release him until now. starting 9 o’clock the interrogations start and so does the torture. we go upstairs. beatings and humiliation and verbal abuse. Won’t you talk?. Who do you know?. he asked me a number of questions. he asked about my brother. they had my brother . how could I know where he is. You won’t talk? Take him! We were blindfolded. they stripped me completely and tied my hands behind my back and tied my feet and suspended me from my hands from the ceiling. I was first standing on a table and then they kicked the table away and left me hanging while pulling at my feet. for six hours. hanging me and electrifying me. while I was hanging like that they attached clips to my toes and connected to a source of electricity. I was tied. my body was rocking and I could not move away. after a while I no longer felt the electricity. the pain from the hanging was severer. my arms hurt terribly. my body was swinging to the right and left from the electricity while I was suspended from the ceiling. then they threw me on the floor. the floor was wet and electrified. then they hanged me again. and all the time they were beating me in my stomach and legs. the signs of torture still show on my back and wrists as if they were burnt (we inspected the wrists: a band, 4 – 5 cm wide, of congested cracking skin on both wrists). They asked me about names. About 40 other men were with me. 15 of them were released with me. only those whom they had taken randomly were not tortured. they gave them some electricity and some beatings and that was all. but some of us were tortured three or four times in a row and each time for hours. Hani Abou Shteta. they pulled out his nails and broke his leg. when we asked about him they said we took him to Al Arish hospital. but nobody there wants to tell us anything. people are terrified. As you can see I can no longer do anything for myself. nothing.
The brother who was taken hostage
They took me at dawn on Friday. they asked me where is your brother? Who visits him? He told me you better tell me the truth or else we shall suspend you. throughout the night I heard people scream. from 9 at night until 4 o’clock in the morning. I was kept there for two days and then my brother came. they tied him. they suspended him from 9 o’clock at night until next morning. my other brother is still there and we do not know anything about him.
The fourth brother
They attacked me Sunday night and I stayed there for two days. they blindfolded me. they stripped me completely naked and hanged me from the upper side of the door. whom do you contact? Whom do you talk with? Will you talk or should we leave you like this until tomorrow? They electrified me from my toes. I was rocking so hard that the edge of the door injured my lower back and upper buttocks (we inspected the injury). I told them what do you want? Tell me what you want and I am going to confess to whatever it is you want. A man who was imprisoned with me was ill and he was vomiting blood. they would not bring him the doctor. we were 300 and had only three toilets. we used to eat black beans and a piece of cheese to break our fast and to have our last meal in the say. we used to split the cucumber into four pieces and take each a piece. the women were kept in the mosque. they were beating them with the stick on their bare soles. I can no longer control my hands. I cannot even hold a cup of tea.
Mother (about 70 years old)
He was the caretaker of his disabled father. he was the one who used to feed and bathe him. now there is nobody. the two other boys can no longer use their hands and there is nobody else with me. may God help me out of my need. he was the one who took care of his father. his father is paralyzed and cannot control his urine. he used to bathe him every time he soiled himself. I am old. I cannot do that. what shall I do. his brothers came out of prison with both hands disabled. who will care of us. who will work to et us what we need. this is Haram (prohibited by God). let them bring back my boy.
One of us went to salute the father, over 80 years old, paralyzed, hard of hearing, in his room a small separator hides the toilet)
The fourth visit was to a family whose men have all been taken by SSI leaving only two brothers and an elderly father. the remainder are in detention.
One of the remaining brothers:
They took five of us. the first is a secondary school student. they took him 10 days before Ramadan and still did not release him. the second they say was brutally tortured and some tell us that he is in hospital. they say they removed his nails and broke his leg. he was about to travel to the Gulf but SSI told him do not travel. you lead people in prayer and if you go away we will not know who is going to replace you. people are used to you, so don’t leave. He did not travel. They took him. they arrested him from the mosque and took him and those praying behind him.
On the 15th of Ramadan they took our older brother. they broke the house door with their machine guns and attacked him at home. then they took him to my aunt’s house. she asked: who is it? And he replied to her so she opened the door. she found all those men with machine guns and one of them put his pistol to her head. she fainted. they took her little son and asked her about my brother. Then they went to my uncle’s house. they broke the door and left some soldiers to watch the house. As soon as he came he found guns pointing at him. they tied his hands and took him. Any one of the neighbors who knocked at our door they would keep them in the house until next day. from 6 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon. they took my female cousins and the wives of my two brothers. they arrested one of them, beat him up, tied him and took him with them. on the same day some relatives of ours came. they were terribly humiliated and aggressed. they took two of them 18 and 23 years old, because my brother had once broken his fast at their house. they took my two paternal cousins. my brother gave himself up when he heard they were taking my mother as hostage. they took any one who ever shook hands with him. one man was arrested with him. When he was released he told me that he had seen my brother. that they tortured my brother for five continuous hours and when he came back to the cell he was completely naked and was crawling on his hands and feet. SSI remained for three days in our house. they ate and drank and slept in our house so that they can arrest anybody who as much as came near us. we had horses and sheep. our neighbors took them so that they don’t die of starvation. SSI came and asked about the horses and sheep and went crazy when they did not find them and harassed the neighbors.
I was away and when I came back they told me Ashraf Bek wants to speak to you after the breakfast at sunset. I said why wait and I went at once. They blindfolded me, they took off my slippers and started asking me questions: what do you know about your brothers. They beat me during the questioning and spoke in dirty language. They asked me where is your mother hiding? All the time I heard voices of people screaming and yelling. My little brother who is 17 years old has been in Tora prison for 45 days and they were not even asking for him when they came to the house. they took him until my brother would give himself up. my brother gave himself up so that they do not take my mother and still they did not release my brother. another of my brothers, we hear, is still at SSI headquarters. the other is in Lazoughli. the younger one stayed in SSI here for 10 days and then was taken to Tora prison. the other stayed here for a week and was then taken to Lazoughli.. People are living in terror. those streets are usually full of people, women and children in the feast and even on ordinary days. as you can see. there is nobody. relatives have come to fear each other and neighbors no longer want to open their doors for each other.
Only women are left in the houses and even the women they take with them. they pull the face veil down the faces of young women walking in the streets. if any of them protests they take her. terror. they say that after the feast they will continue the arrests.
When they first came they took Hossam, 16 years old, he is a diploma student. that was nine days before Ramadan. it was at the time of the dawn prayers. they asked me who else was in the house. they took him and ran away. on the 10th of Ramadan they took the other four. They wanted to take the girl (12 years old). she ran out of the house. the whole of Arish left their homes for about 13 days. the government stayed here in the house for three days after I had left. five security men. any guest who came they would ask my daughter to open the door, then they would either take the visitors or just interrogate them. people were afraid to visit us. they took Hamada’s wife who was pregnant. they drove her around in their car to tell them about the houses of the friends of her husband. she bled from the many traveling around. they electrified Ishmael’s wife in her fingers. when the girl went to ask about her brother they told her you better step inside or else we shall beat the shit out of you. they swore at Samar using very dirty language. he called her daughter of a bitch. they pulled the face veil from the face of Ishmael’s wife. when they arrested the wife of Hamada there were 45 other women on top of each other. when they had to go to the toilet they had to pass in front of men and hear them scream. she saw Ishmael naked and suspended from the ceiling in front of her.
One of the sisters
Women from the Bedouins of Sheikh Zouaied were tortured. they had a woman among them who had just delivered a baby three days ago. they beat her until she bled and they took her to hospital amongst police guards.
They camped in our house. the roofs of the houses around us were full of police. throughout the night we ere up and afraid that they might come again. we live in terror and fear.
Those security men are from Cairo. we do not know them. they had some security men from Arish. they took two young men from our neighbors with them. they were covering their heads with a black cover and their clothes were black. they put their machine guns to the head of my sister in law from both sides.
A woman visitor
A colleague of mine at work was wearing the face veil. she was in the market. they told her to remove it. she refused. they shot her with a bullet in her shoulder. they pulled the face veil from the faces of women and would kick them with their boots. I saw this with my own eyes. my work is close to the marker and I see this happening to women. they took my son to ask him about the old woman after she had left the house.
There is this other young man. they searched him and took the Koran out of his pocket. they asked him: what is this?. he said these are the words of God. they swore at him. he told him do not do that we are in Ramadan. they beat him up
Another detainee. they took his brother and sister-in-law. Another was detained. They released him and two weeks later they took him again.
* * * Day 2 16 November 2004 City of Sheikh Zoayyed
First they took one. then every time a brother comes to the house they would take him too until they took the four of them. they were tortured because they are car electricians. they ask them: how did you make the remote controller? Then they found out that the car was blown up by a timer (washing machine timer) so they reduced the torture.
On Saturday the 8th of Ramadan they came during the sunset prayer and arrested me. officer Ahmed Abdel Fattah and Akram Bek, chief of the SSI office in Rafah. they had two big cars with them. they took us with many others to Arish to the SSI office. I spent 22 days there. my cousin was with me in the same car. there was somebody else who was wanted. when they did not find him they took his father instead. they asked about his wife. she was at her family’s house in Arish. they went and arrested her from there together with two of his brothers. he gave himself up so they released the women. they were 200 women. they released them one day before they released me. my body was aching and I could not see properly. they piled us one on top of the other in the corridor. we were squatting all the time. about 40 of us. the women too were in the same corridor in the beginning. they stayed there for about a week or ten days then they were taken to the mosque. most of! them had children with them, some were newly born some were six years old and in between. I heard people screaming throughout the night. they would ask us where do you pray,, whom do you know of the Brothers. is your wife veiled? . we heard the screaming. they tortured with electricity and suspension. people came back naked and unable to move from the long suspension. we would dress and feed them. one of them was electrified while suspended from the ceiling. another elderly employee when he was released they had left the metal ring around his big toe. we had to remove it ourselves. I heard women too were electrified. many people are still detained there. there is no work in the city. people see the RBJs in the trucks and tanks and run away. there is no feast. no passengers. people are hiding in their homes. the other day I was going out and met a friend of mine. I shook hands with him. he told me please do me a favor. do not salute me. I have children and I want to be able to raise them. Nobody came to us for the feast. we are all living in fear.
My cousin is a teacher in the school of commerce. a poor man. he is still arrested. he has nothing to do with anything. he was taken with me. I was blindfolded for a week. they would not remove the blindfold except during meal times when we break our fast at sunset and when we last eat before dawn and when we go to the toilet. on the last three days they put me in the soldiers section. 3x4 meters. we were about 50 people. my cousin is a member in the ruling national democratic party and a member of the local council and a teacher and a father of 7 daughters and a son. they took him to the prison in Damanhour. we heard that in Damanhour they do not torture as much as they do here.
On the eve of the feast they took 10 people and held them at the sea shore. today in the square of Sheikh Zoayyed people would be sitting in front of the supermarket and they would come and hold them in detention for five hours or more until they decide whom they want to keep and whom they will release. all mobile phones are tapped. one man bought a mobile from somebody who was wanted by them. as soon as he used it he was arrested. every day they raid houses and take women and children. all phones are tapped. you would receive a phone call showing no number on the screen and nobody would answer you. once they parked in front of the Tawhid mosque just after the dawn prayers on the 21st of Ramadan. they had the back of their trucks towards the entrance of the mosque. anybody going in they would tell him do not say we are outside. anybody coming out would be taken into the car immediately. one man received a phone call from a relative asking for money and saying that he will send a small boy to fetch it. they entered the house, pointed their machine guns to the heads of the men they found in there and when the boy arrived they arrested him and the young men. until today he is still in detention. (XXX) gave himself up because they threatened to arrest his mother and little brothers. his mother was electrified. he himself was electrified for 4 days. his cousins were only released on the first day of the feast. they beat him until they broke his hands.
They arrested 125 people from El Gora Monday market on the morning of the 10th of Ramdan. they would ask for their IDs and then take him. we know nothing about their whereabouts right now. only one was released. he said they asked him to work with them as an informer.
In Abou Shannar village next to the Yamit colony in Rafah the SSI broke into their house during Iftar (Ramadan breakfast) on the 15th of Ramadan. they destroyed the family. they arrested all the men. they took them to Tora and Damanhour prisons. one of them was working with the Egyptian Intelligence and he had done major services for them. they took even him. There was this 85 years old man. he developed angina in the police station. we covered him in a blanket and called the security guards. they took him and put him aside for an hour before they took him to hospital. I do not know if he is dead or alive. Another was born in 1914. he was literally carried into the detention center. Another was bearded and had a heart disease. his mother told them take care he has a heart disease. he was taken away to Tora prison before I was released. Another was tortured almost to death and by the time he was allowed out he was unable to carry his jacket. And everybody of those who had relatives anywhere, they brought them. the tribe chiefs were scaring people and pressuring them to give their children up to the police rather than have the whole family being taken and tortured. one of them gave his own two sons up to the police to spare the women in his family. drivers have a disaster now. they are not working. they cannot pay the installments of their cars. there is nobody on the streets, people are scared and after sunset everybody close their doors and open to nobody. also drivers are scared. from her to El Qantara they installed 10 checkpoints. the distance took usually two hours, now it takes four hours and they humiliate the driver and the passengers. they ask people for their IDs. everybody here has been humiliated.
Here people buy and sell new clothes and what they need for the feast during the last two days of Ramadan. anybody who went shopping for their kids was arrested. some shops used to sell for 100 thousand pounds before the feast. this year they barely sold for 100 pounds. Visit the square in the morning. around 9 in the morning. you will find the police tanks and on tope of them the machine guns and the RBJs and behind them the trucks where they collect the people from the streets.
* * * Developments after our visit
The second house
After we left the second house, the family contacted the lawyer and told him that SSI came with their truck and asked for the one remaining son. The father went into a rage and decided to give himself up instead of his son. but they insisted to take the young man who decided to go with them to spare his mother and the women of the house the humiliation he knew they would face. in the meantime lawyer Ahmed Seif and members of the popular committee of citizen’s rights in the north of Sinai had arrived to the house so the car drove away in haste.
The next day we went to console the family and express our solidarity and our help. The house was one of mourning. full of women who came to give their condolences and pray to God that He may take their revenge. “10 minutes after you left three SSI officers came dressed in plainclothes and asked for Ahmed. We told them you took all the men of the family, take us too. The officer shouted: I do not want to hear any noise. Ahmed’s father insisted to go with them but they refused. They wanted Ahmed only. The old man drove with them against their will and from there they sent him back and told him we just want to ask him a couple of questions and we shall release him at once. He still did not come back. During the days of the Israeli occupation we used to hide Egyptian soldiers. we would dress them up as women so that they can escape unharmed. we helped the army a lot. is this how they are repaying us? If the Israelis had found out about us they would have blown us up. we risked our lives for this country and this is how they pay us back fro what we did. A humiliation that we have never seen before”.
The fourth house
After our visit they called the older of the remaining two sons. They asked him to come and speak to the Basha2. He refused. We went to see the young man shortly before we left Arish. We asked him whether he will go in hiding.
“I shall not hide. I shall stay at home with my mother and sisters. let them come if they want. they have asked for me before and I went to see them. what else do they want. this time I know what will happen. I shall not leave the house except dead. what is left to lose?. whom do I leave the women to?. and why?. so that they humiliate them? There is nothing more to lose. people are afraid from each other. they left us nothing. if one keeps to himself they would still not leave you alone. if you ask people in the street what they want they would tell you we only want to live. they only want to live.
* * * * *
Al Arish and Sheikh Zoayyed are ghost towns. you can almost smell fear in the air. In front of the office of the Tagammu party a police officer is parking on his motorbike. whenever anybody comes out or goes into the building he goes to a public phone and makes a call. police officers are threatening citizens to wait and see what will happen after the feast. “We shall burn this city down. this city has to be set straight.”
1 Bek: title for low rank nobility. Legally cancelled as a title since