Britons recount four years of 'torture' in Egyptian jail

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The Independent Online

Two British men have spoken of the torture and degrading treatment they suffered during four terrifying years of imprisonment in Egypt. Maajid Nawaz and Ian Nisbet say they were blindfolded and forced to listen to the screams of prisoners being electrocuted as recently as four days ago, hours before they were flown back to Britain.

They criticised Tony Blair for saying he wanted to ban their group, the radical Islamic organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, in Britain for glorifying terrorism. They claimed the group condemned terrorism. Both accused the British Government of ignoring their plight.

The pair, and a fellow Briton, Reza Pankhurst, were arrested in 2002 over their links to Hizb ut-Tahrir. They admitted belonging to it in Britain, where it is legal, but were convicted and sentenced because it is banned in Egypt.

Mr Nawaz, a student on a year abroad as part of his degree from the University of London, said he was subjected to sleep deprivation, threatened with death and forced to listen while Mr Pankhurst was tortured with electric prods. He said the three men were in the hands of the secret police.

"As soon as we entered, they blindfolded us and tied our hands behind our backs not even with handcuffs, but with torn pieces of rags, treating us like cattle. They forced us to sit on the floor for four continuous days, prohibiting us from sleeping and if any one of us fell asleep they would be beaten and forced to wake up again. On the second day, we began to hear the sounds of electricity and the screams of men crying and screaming for mercy from people who have none.

"And they began to electrocute people to such an extent that really you would wish you were dead; you would wish you were dead rather than live through that experience. They took me and threatened me with the same treatment and made me listen personally to Mr Pankhurst being tortured."

Mr Nawaz, 28, who has one child and lives in Southend-on-Sea, said: "They would remove the clothes of prisoners while they were torturing them and force them on to the floor. They would tie the hands of the prisoners behind their backs and hang them from the door with their hands behind their backs for days on end."

The men were held for three months in solitary confinement "with cold stone floors, no sheets, no beds, no lights, no toilets". Mr Nawaz said they were always woken in the small hours and forced to stand in uncomfortable positions to ensure they never had an unbroken night's sleep.

Last Tuesday, before their return to London, they were again blindfolded and held bent double for 16 hours and made to listen to the screams of torture victims. "I met one of the people who was being electrocuted and he was washing his body because such electrocution makes you break your bowels under such pain."

Mr Nisbet, 31, from east London, who was studying Arabic in Cairo, said they were forced to sign confessions. "We were all threatened with execution, we had people tortured in front of us; you could see the feet of the person being tortured, you could hear his screams in response to what you were saying."

Mr Nisbet added: "I've witnessed the scars of people who have acid poured down their backs; they are deformed now. I have witnessed knife wounds in the stomachs of people. I have seen people who cannot move their hands because their hands have been broken permanently. I know people who believe they can never have children again because of the torture."

Mr Nawaz said he felt a "total betrayal" when he discovered Tony Blair had taken several recent holidays in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh while they were locked up. He said: "I saw it as a personal insult, I felt that I was treated as a second-class citizen."

The Foreign Office is trying to negotiate "memoranda of understanding" with several countries, including Egypt, under which they guarantee not to ill-treat suspects returned to them. Mike Blakemore, an Amnesty International spokesman, said: "Torture is systematic in Egypt and these allegations have a sickeningly familiar ring. Such deals will not be worth the paper they are written on."

Stephen Jakobi, the founder of Fair Trials Abroad, who took up the case, said: "Guantanamo was a picnic compared to what happened to these people. It's extraordinary the British Government wasn't behaving towards these three British citizens in the same way they were trying to get justice for the seven Britons in Guantanamo Bay."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We take any allegations of mistreatment extremely seriously and our concerns about these claims have been made at all levels including by the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw.

"We have pressed for a full investigation into the allegations and the Egyptian government can be in no doubt as to the seriousness with which the allegations are taken."