Moustafa Mountaser: A new victim of systemic torture in Egypt

After ten days of arrest, Mustafa Mountaser, 19 years, gave his last breath in Montazah III police station in Alexandria two weeks ago. The police claimed the death was expected, but the family said torture signs were evident on his body, including bruises and injuries on the head and ears, left leg fracture and rib fractures.

Mustafa was arrested along with 3 of his friends on 18 July, when they were riding a Toktok on Kafr Addawwar Alexandria highway. According to the Egyptian Network of Human Rights, the families lost contact with their sons and started to search for them in hospitals and police stations. Still, the Montazah III police station denied their presence. Three days later, the family of Mountaser received a call from a lawyer that the four guys were in the Mansheya prosecution investigating them on charges of forming a criminal gang and having drugs, arms and ammunition. Still, the police records reported them arrested on 20 July instead of 18.

The family said Mountaser told them when they met at the prosecution, he and his friends were arrested at a checkpoint when the officer asked them about the papers of the Toktok and refused the guy’s offer to contact his mother to bring the property paper. They prevented them from reaching their families or any other person; then led them to the police station, where the accusation was fabricated against them. On the morning of 27 July, the family received a call from an anonymous telling them their son had died in custody. The family went to the station, where they quarrelled with the police staff, that denied the death and then told the family that Mountaser was in Abu Kier Public Hospital.

When the family went to the hospital, they told me their son had passed away, and they were hardly allowed to see his body, but they witnessed signs of torture. So, the family filed a complaint to the public prosecution to investigate the suspected death. When the news came out on social media, the ministry of interior issued an official statement claiming he knew the guy to be abusing drugs, and he got ill on the night of his death, so he was transferred to the hospital where he died.

On 2 August, the public prosecutor stated the signs of torture on the body of Mustafa did not prove torture, and it may be because he fell to the ground in custody. After all, he had diabetes that may cause him to lose consciousness. The prosecution emphasized that the investigation was still going on. The case of Mountaser is unexceptional in Egypt, as torture in police stations is taken for granted in pop culture as a usual practice, and sometimes some people attempt to justify it as necessary for investigations. Several movies and drama series present torture in police stations within comic plots. This was the case, for example, in the film, Induced Labor, 2018, and in the action thriller, Forced Escape, 2017.

The ministry of interior used to deny taking carte blanche from the public prosecution that used to side with the police against the victims. In rare blunt cases, the public prosecution proves criminal torture, and the police say it is an individual incident that does not prove systemic torture. Against the police narrative, a brief inspection of the monthly reports of El Nadim Center for Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, one of the highly esteemed human rights centres in Egypt, tells victims of systemic torture are thousands. Torture forms include beating, electrical shock and even rape, aside999999999999 from solitary confinement and denial of medical care. The most recent prominent case is the economic researcher Ayman Hadhoud, who passed away last March inside Abbasiya Hospital from Mental Health after being forcibly disappeared by the National Security. Evidence shows Hadhoud was tortured and died of his injuries.

Last January, The Guardian reported two videos from the custody of Al-Salam police station showing the custodians being tortured by severe beating and suspension in unbearable body positions. The public prosecution that has lost independence replied to The Guardian, claiming the victims injured themselves due to foreign incitement to distort the country’s international image. It did not stop here but ordered the victims to be arrested and charged them with publishing false news and joining a terrorist group. And the most iconic case remains that of the Italian researcher Julio Regini, who was cruelly tortured to death by the National Security, the scandalous secret and political police working under the auspices of the president. The Italian prosecution proved the criminal responsibility of 4 National Security officers who tortured Regeni by burning, beating and breaking bones.