A few days ago, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior participated in the celebration of International Children’s Day, where it organised visits to children’s hospitals, orphanages and people with special needs, and presented in-kind gifts to these children to celebrate the occasion. In other circumstances, this celebration would have been considered a good sign in the context of the societal role of the security services, but one finds it difficult to accept such a move, at a time when there are reports of the arrest of hundreds of children under the rule of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, many of whom were subjected to severe violations such as enforced disappearance, physical and sexual violence.

Under Sisi 1,274 children have been arrested

A recent report issued by the Beladi Foundation, an Egyptian human rights organisation that defends civil and political rights and focuses its efforts on curbing violations against women and children, revealed that at least 1,274 children were arrested on political grounds during the period from March 2013 to July 2021.

The detained children were subjected to many violations that are difficult to enumerate, such as enforced disappearance for varying periods, in some cases reaching up to two years, referral to military trials, and being forced to make videos confessing to crimes they did not commit. The violations included various forms of physical violence and methods of torture, including beating, slapping, kicking, electric shocks, and extinguishing cigarettes in different areas of the body.

According to the study, the year 2014 had the highest rate of arrest, as 350 boys and girls were imprisoned, against the background of the events that erupted on the third anniversary of the January 25, 2011 revolution, followed by the year 2019, which witnessed the arrest of 172 boys and girls, coinciding with the September 20 demonstrations that demanded the removal of President Sisi. The ages of the detained children ranged from one month to 18 years. The age group from 13 to 18 years constituted the majority, but five cases of arresting infants between the ages of one month and three years were monitored, as a means of forcing a parent to surrender to the police or as part of arrest campaigns for entire families. The arrested children faced charges that did not match their ages, such as accusations of murder or attempted murder, joining a banned terrorist group, possessing weapons and explosives, demonstrating without a permit, spreading false news, and other ready-made charges regularly used against opponents.

There were many violations during their trials. Despite the illegality of trying children before criminal courts with adults, only 4.1 per cent of all cases were referred to the Child Court, in addition to the appearance of 37 children before military courts. The sentences sometimes ranged between imprisonment, aggravated imprisonment, or imprisonment with a fine, and even the courts of first instance issued death sentences for three children, and life imprisonment for six others, in flagrant violation of all constitutional and legal provisions.

Vivid examples of violations

In January 2016, a group of men who identified themselves as from the National Security Agency (the political security apparatus of President Al-Sisi’s regime) arrested Karim Hamida Ali, 17, from his home in the Omrania neighborhood of Giza, without judicial authorisation. He was subjected to enforced disappearance for more than a month in a National Security basement, during which time he was subjected to torture, beatings and electric shocks in order to confess to a crime he did not commit. Then he appeared before the prosecution accused of joining a prohibited organisation, possessing explosives, and damaging public facilities.

After more than three years of imprisonment, a court sentenced Karim to death by hanging, before the judge returned and reduced his sentence to 10 years in prison, after he was told that Karim was a child at the time of the alleged crime, which means that the judge did not originally study the case well and didn’t even know how old the defendant was. The case in which Karim is accused, along with 26 others including 11 other children, is based on a demonstration in 2016 during which demonstrators lit fireworks and vandalised the facade of the Three Pyramids Hotel in the Haram area of ​​Giza, without causing any deaths or injuries.

The Public Prosecution Office and the judges who interrogated Karim turned a blind eye to his complaint that he had been tortured to confess to these accusations, thus participating in covering up the security violations against children. Karim finished his secondary education while he was in prison, and he did not rejoice among his family and loved ones with his success like other children, and he is currently a student in the second year of the Faculty of Commerce at Helwan University, and is studying from prison. Another example of the horrific violations that detained children are subjected to is the 12-year-old child Abdullah Boumediene, who was arrested by a military force on December 31, 2017, from his mother’s home in the city of Al-Arish in North Sinai Governorate.

Security forces forcibly disappeared Abdullah for more than six months. When he appeared at the Azbakeya police station in Cairo in July 2018, he told the lawyers that he was detained in several security facilities in North Sinai, including the National Security headquarters in Al-Arish and the military base of the 101st Battalion, and that the security men subjected him to horrific torture, including beatings, electrocutions, and simulated waterboarding. They tied his hands with handcuffs and hung him from his right hand, which has a disability. Abdullah said interrogators lit a fire under an iron bed frame and forced him to lie on the hot iron. He was also denied adequate food and from showering. On one occasion, while he was being held in a police station in North Sinai, he heard continuous screams from a woman who appeared to be being tortured, and officers threatened him that his mother would meet the same fate if he did not disclose information to them about his brother, who they accused of joining ISIS.

Over the years, Abdullah was detained and subjected to various abuses, and the Egyptian authorities ignored court rulings and broke their promises to the family that Abdullah would be released. On December 27, 2018, the Juvenile Appeal Court ruled that Abdullah be released and handed over to his guardians. 14 days after the verdict, authorities transferred the boy to a second police station in al-Arish. On January 18, 2019, a policeman at the station told Abdullah’s older sister to sign a document confirming that she had received her brother and promised to refer him to her the next day. When she returned to pick him up, the officers denied knowing his whereabouts, and the family lost contact with him after that!

After all these violations that tremble with the statutes, the Ministry of Interior comes to try to beautify its image by visiting children’s hospitals and orphanages, and presenting them with gifts! We are supposed to believe that this is the true face of the regime, that the police have changed and do not commit any violation of human rights, and that the reality is rosy, and we ignore all these documented crimes that do not have a statute of limitations!