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Egyptian Police Accused of Torturing Protester

Opposition activists in Egypt are accusing the police of torturing and sexually abusing a protester who was arrested after a peaceful demonstration last week. The man's lawyer says he is seriously injured and has been denied medical treatment for four days.

People who have seen Mohammed el-Sharqawi say every inch of his body is covered with bruises, cuts and welts.

One of his lawyers, Gamal Eid, told reporters that the defense team nearly cried when they saw him on the night he was arrested - he was a different person than the man they had seen that morning.

"We could not see his eyes because they were so swollen. He could barely speak through his battered mouth. There were shoe prints on his neck and chest," said Eid.

The lawyer says Sharqawi was examined by a doctor Sunday, after 72 hours in police custody, but has received no medical treatment. His injuries are believed to be severe, and possibly life-threatening.

Other political detainees say they are going on a hunger strike until he is treated, and until the people who beat him are held accountable.

VOA's phone calls to several Interior Ministry spokesmen went unanswered. The ministry has issued terse statements to a few other news organizations denying the allegations of torture.

Sharqawi and his colleague Karim el-Shaer were arrested Thursday after a peaceful demonstration. Both men had been released from prison only days earlier, after being jailed for participating in earlier anti-government protests.

Eyewitnesses said both of them were beaten severely in the street by plainclothes security agents known locally as baltagaya, or thugs.

The prosecutor has ordered that they be held in custody for 15 days.

In a written message smuggled out of his prison cell and circulated over the Internet, Sharqawi graphically describes beatings and abuse during his arrest. He accuses police and state security agents of sexually assaulting him using a rolled-up piece of cardboard.

Another activist, Ahmed El-Droubi, shared a cell with Sharqawi for 28 days before they were both released last week. He visited his old cell mates in prison on Saturday, after a bruised and battered Sharqawi had re-joined them.

"And I saw him. He was physically destroyed. Psychologically, he was very roughed-up ... He is urinating blood. They actually stomped and kicked his sexual organs until he peed blood right there while they were torturing him. But after all that, he is still strong. He still smiles. Definitely, he was broken inside, but he still believes in what he is doing, and he will not stop," he said.

El-Sharqawi is a member of a group called Youth For Change, an offshoot of the reform movement known as Kifaya, which is Arabic for Enough.

Kifaya leader George Ishak denounced the treatment of Mohammed el-Sharqawi. "This thuggery … these crimes will not stop us. If we remain silent in the face of these violations, then we are all violated," he said.

More than 500 activists have been arrested during the past five weeks for participating in demonstrations in support of the independence of the judiciary.

Most of the detainees are members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Others, like Mohammed Sharqawi, come from Kifaya or other secular or leftist political groups.

The crackdown on peaceful protesters has drawn criticism from the European Union and the U.S. State Department.

The U.S. Congress is considering whether to renew the United States' $1.7-billion economic and military aid package for Egypt for another year. The House appropriations committee approved the package last week, over the objections of some committee members who are concerned about Egypt's human-rights record. The Bush administration backed passage of the bill, calling good relations with Egypt vital to U.S. national interests.