Young children detained and tortured after protests in Egypt

Activists speak out over 'unprecedented level of institutional abuse of children'


Hundreds of children – some as young as nine – have been illegally detained and in many cases tortured by the Egyptian police following the protests which erupted after the second anniversary of the 2011 uprising.

In what lawyers and activists say is a retrenchment of state brutality akin to the worst abuses of power during Hosni Mubarak’s regime, large numbers of children have been unlawfully imprisoned in camps used by Egypt’s central security forces.

Rights groups say that many of those detained have been subjected to cruel mistreatment, including beatings, electrocution and “hanging” torture. Others were forced by their tormentors to strip naked before being drenched with cold water.

One lawyer said he believed that up to 400 children, many of them barely teenagers, may have been rounded up during police operations following the outbreak of street clashes on 25 January, the anniversary of Egypt’s rebellion two years ago.

Some of those arrested were taken to the notorious Gabal Ahmar camp in eastern Cairo – a compound whose name is bleakly familiar to many Egyptians for its association with the detention and abuse of political detainees during the rule of Hosni Mubarak.

Other camps, such as El-Salam beyond the fringes of the capital, were also used. Such detentions are illegal under Egyptian law.

“This is a new trend,” said Karim Ennarah from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a Cairo-based NGO. “This level of institutional abuse of children is unprecedented.”

Mahmoud Bilal, a lawyer who has been working on cases involving detained children, said that many of those jailed were systematically tortured by their police captors.

He said some were electrocuted, often using Tazer-style devices, while others were subjected to excruciating “hanging techniques” – a favoured method of the Mubarak-era security services, whereby detainees have their hands bound before being trussed up by their arms to the cell wall.

“Almost all the children I know of who were arrested after 25 January have been tortured,” said Mr Bilal. He added that in one camp the detainees were forced to drink a foul “soup” consisting of salt dissolved in water.

An activist who spent more than a week in detention earlier this month told The Independent how he shared a cell block with 47 children who had been arrested by the police.

“All of them had injuries on their bodies,” said Mohamed el-Maligi, a 26-year-old who was arrested following a demonstration outside a Cairo courtroom last month.

He added that just before he was released, one of the children, a 14-year-old called Ramadan, had come to him sporting a bulging black eye after being beaten by the police.

“He was worried that after I left the beatings would get worse,” he said. “He looked at me and said, ‘after you leave, we will be finished’.”

Many of those arrested claim to have been caught up in random detention swoops, despite being nowhere near the scene of any street clashes.

Mr el-Maligi said that one of the children he was detained with, a 13-year-old, was a street seller who said he was arrested in Cairo’s Ramses Square, far away from any of the rioting.

“The police never arrest people during the clashes because it’s too dangerous,” he said. “They arrest people when they are walking in the streets.

“They are doing it because they don’t want people to think they have been beaten.”

Over the past year the profile of anti-government demonstrators has morphed considerably, with many of the protesters seen goading riot police during street clashes barely beyond the age of primary school.

“A lot of the younger youth have been empowered by this revolution,” said Ragia Omran, a lawyer who has been documenting cases of child detention. “They feel they want to have a role and so are also wanting to participate.”

But coupled with the issue of Egypt’s street children – the hundreds of thousands of school age youngsters plying a hand-to-mouth living in the cities every day – the resulting police crackdown, often involving swoops on innocent children, has helped swell the population of detained minors.

There are also political factors at play. The unlawful processing of child detainees has highlighted the considerable turmoil inside many of the country’s key state institutions.

Critics have accused Talaat Ibrahim Abdullah, the general prosecutor appointed by presidential decree in November, of spearheading a drive to circumvent due legal process in his pursuit of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political opponents.

Prosecutors staged a rally outside the Cairo high court in December to protest against the perceived politicisation of Egypt’s legal system, temporarily forcing Mr Abdullah’s resignation.

“The office of general prosecutor has become very politicised,” said Karim Ennarah. “It was clear from day one that Talaat Abdullah was a tool of government.”

A victims story

According to his father, 12 year-old Omar Salah Omran was selling sweet potatoes from a cart close to Cairo’s Tahrir Square on 3 February when a policeman approached him. Witnesses said the officer asked the boy to serve him, a brief altercation ensued, and he shot the boy in the chest.

Security officials who brought Omar’s body to a nearby hospital reportedly told medical staff not to register his death, despite requests from doctor for an investigation to take place. Omar’s father, who is illiterate, was not given a forensic report, and was reportedly told to waive his right to redress, accepting the incident had been “unintentional”.

A picture of Omar’s body has since gone viral online, and his case has sparked protests that have called for justice for victims of police brutality.

Lucy Provan

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Services Developer

£200 - £450 per day: Harrington Starr: Web Services Developer Web Services, WP...

Project Manager - (Housing Association, Prince 2) - Watford

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Project Manager - (Housin...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants For Multiple UK Offices

£18000 - £25000 per annum + DOE, OTE £40000: SThree: LONDON - BRISTOL - DUBLIN...

Embedded Software Engineer - Process Coordinator

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare, Bonus, Holiday : Progressive ...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil