Egypt’s crackdown on Islamists sees 16,000 jailed in past eight months

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 9:15pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 9:15pm


Egypt's crackdown on Islamists has seen 16,000 people jailed over the past eight months in the country's biggest round-up in nearly two decades, according to previously unreleased figures from security officials.

The Egyptian government has not released official numbers for those arrested in the sweeps since the military ousted Islamist president Mohammed Mursi in July. But four senior officials - two from the interior ministry and two from the military - gave a count of 16,000, including about 3,000 top- or mid-level members of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood.

The count, which is consistent with recent estimates by human rights groups, was based on a tally kept by the interior ministry to which the military also has access. It includes hundreds of women and minors, though the officials could not give exact figures. The officials gave the figures on condition of anonymity because the government had not released them.

The flood of arrests has swamped prisons and the legal system. Many are held for months in police station lockups meant as temporary holding areas or in impromptu jails set up in police training camps because prisons are overcrowded. Inmates are kept for months without charge.

Rights activists say torture - by Egypt's legal definition - is not standard practice, though they have received reports of electric shocks being used to punish detainees.

More widely spread, they say, are beatings, sleep deprivation, verbal abuse, threats of rape and denying inmates basic items like bedding, blankets, newspapers and exercise.

"I am not convinced that torture is systematic, but I am convinced that excessive cruelty is," said Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, a prominent rights lawyer who heads a non-governmental organisation supporting detainees.