(AINA) -- Egyptian State Security has been accused by lawyers, rights activists and victims' families of torturing the Christian youths arrested in the aftermath of the Christmas Eve shootings of Copts on January 6, 2010. The shooting in the southern town of Nag Hammadi resulted in the death of six and the injury of nine Christians (AINA 1-7-2010).
Two days after the shootings, nearly 100 Coptic teenagers as young as 15 were arrested randomly without warrants from the streets and their homes in Nag Hammadi and the neighboring villages (AINA 1-13-2010).
The arrests were intensified after Anba Kyrollos, Coptic Bishop of Nag Hammadi, heavily criticized the role of the security forces in the massacre, and the demonstrations that took place in Nag Hammadi by the angry Copts against the security forces. Gen. Mahmoud Gohar, Security Director Qena, explicitly threatened Copts and said that he will deal firmly and strongly with any protests.
The arrested youngsters were tortured and released without charges after nearly one week, except for 15 who were charged with "rioting and resisting the authorities" on January 24, and sent to detention camps; 13 went to the New Valley Camp, 700 km south of Cairo and 2 went to Alexandria. It is not known how they are being treated there. "When we visit them, there is always supervision," said one relative.
Those that were released confirmed that they were beaten and subjected to electrocution. They were asked by security forces to falsely testify against Bishop Kyrollos that he incited them to make demonstrations.
Activist Wagih Yacoub of the Middle East Christian Association carried out interviews on February 19 with two Copts who were tortured. The young men were arrested randomly from the street and kept incarcerated 4-7 days before being released. They have now both left Nag Hammadi for fear of being re-arrested.
Bola (surname withheld), 18, said that he was picked up from the street at 6.30 on January 8, and taken to the police station. Next morning they were blindfolded, with their hands tied behind their back, and transferred to the State Security prison in Nag Hammadi. "We had to take our clothes off, and we were electrocuted with electrodes in our private parts for 8 hours." He said "Electric shocks only stopped when we could take it no longer -- only to be resumed again."
Reziky (surname withheld), 17, said he was picked up by the police from the street and was taken the next morning blindfolded to State Security prison. He described how they underwent electric shocks by being made to take their clothes off, stand barefooted, and drenched with water. "They electrocuted us through our private parts," he said. "We were threatened by security that if we disclosed what went on, we will be re-arrested." A relative of Reziky told an investigator he believes that Reziky and the others Coptic boys were also sexually abused by the police.
Coptic News Bulletin conducted an aired interview with the brother of a 15-year-old teenager who was released. He wanted to remain anonymous for fear of revenge from State Security. "They tortured my brother, and the other Copts. They were flogged and electrocuted through their private parts. The doctor said that none of them will be able to father any children or get married," he said sobbing "He did not tell us exactly what happened. He is ashamed." He said that the police wanted them to falsely accuse Bishop Kyrollos of inciting them to go out on demonstrations. The brother said that his brother is under medical treatment but is suffering psychologically and is afraid to venture out of his home.
In a balancing act, security forces also arrested Muslims as well, but they were not tortured, according to the brother. "When the police beat the Christians they tell them "your only problem is that you are Christian," he said.
He added that he knew from his brother that those who were released had to sign on a blank paper beforehand, and they were threatened that should they divulge what went on inside prison, they will never see their families or daylight again. He also said that when human rights organizations came to see them, the Security forces sent them away and they were prevented from seeing anyone.
Dr. Naguib Gobraeel, President of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights (EUHRO), released a statement on February 17, volunteering to represent the young men who were subjected to torture in connection with the Nag Hammadi Massacre. "The Organization is aware that all those who were detained have been subjected to torture in sensitive parts of the their bodies that would make them completely lose their masculinity." He explained that such crimes of torture have no statute of limitation. A hot-line number to the EUHRO was advertised.
Volunteer lawyers have complained that the affected families are afraid to sue the security forces for torturing their children. "Who is going to protect us from the vengeance of the security forces if we sue them?" said a relative of the 15-year old teenager Mina to Coptic News Bulletin. "We are poor and helpless people."
As is the case in all sectarian incidents, State Security hold Christians in captivity to use them as "pawns" or "hostages" for twisting the Church's arm into accepting their unfair settlement to secure the release of its children. The same tactic was used with the Nag Hammadi incident.
It was reported the families of the arrested youth appealed to Bishop Kyrollos for the release of their children, who were being tortured by the security forces in Nag Hammadi. A source near the Nag Hammadi Diocese, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Security officials in Nag Hammadi made a 'deal' with Bishop Kyrollos to release the incarcerated young men in exchange for his downplaying his accusation of the negligence of the State Security in the shooting incident. "Bishop Kyrollos was surprised to find detention warrants issued against 15 young men. He honored the agreement, but State Security did not," said the source. "The Bishop was told by security officials to pursue normal channels secure their release, so he hired a team of lawyers from Cairo." He believes that the 15 youngsters were purposely detained to be used again by the security officials to barter for something new from the Church.
Attorney Nabil Ghabrial, one of their legal team said that there is no proof for the charges of 'riot and resistance to authorities' brought against his 15 clients, as there were large numbers of bystanders, "so why are those in particular are accused?" An appeal was filed in Court on February 8 by the defense team challenging their arrest and detention.
Following the Nag Hammadi shootings, State security prevented human rights organizations from entering Nag Hammadi. However, Coptic advocacy groups were able to contact the families of the arrested young men and air their recorded interviews.
The majority of families interviewed found it difficult to talk about the torture their children underwent, especially the damage caused by electrocuting their private parts; they felt their children were humiliated as men. Most of the released teens were undergoing medical treatment and many have been fitted with catheters in order to urinate. Families also complained that their children are living in fear, do not sleep at night and do not venture out in the street.
The mother of 20 years old Milad Nageh, who is presently in a detention camp, said that her son was picked up from the street and accused of rioting. "I saw him when he was here in Nag Hammadi, they electrically tortured him." His mother said that they do not know his whereabouts, some told her he was in the New Valley and some said in Alexandria. "When human rights groups were here, the police officer did now allow them to speak to us; they just took the names and had to leave."
Mother of 20-year-old Milad Badei said that he was dying in the New Valley camp as a result of the torture and the electric shocks he received in Nag Hammadi prison at the hands of State Security. "They said they would get him doctor to look after him, but I have no money to go and see him in the New Valley," she told Coptic News Bulletin in an aired interview.
She recounted the family's ordeal when they were attacked at home in Bahgoura on the evening of January 8. 2010. She said the Muslims broke into their home after cutting off the electricity supply. They were naked so that no one could get hold of them. "They were throwing gas at us to burn us and had knives. My sons Milad and Mina were hurling bricks at them as we had nothing else to defend ourselves with. We could hear the Muslims telling each other to drag the girls out." She said. Her second son Mina, who is also wanted by security is presently hiding. "Is Milad committing a crime to hurl bricks at perpetrators to protect his family and save his unmarried sister from being raped?" asked the mother, sobbing.
On February 20, 2010, the courts dismissed the appeals filed against the detention. Lawyers and human rights organizations will demonstrate in protest in front of the Supreme Court in Cairo at noon on Wednesday, 24/2/2010 requesting the immediate release of the detainees. They will also present to the Attorney-General a note of protest against the arrests.
By Mary Abdelmassih