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Amnesty International Criticizes Egypt for Rights Abuses

The human-rights organization Amnesty International has released a report highly critical of what it says is Egypt's use of torture and illegal detention. The report also says Egypt is acting on behalf of a number of Western countries as a center of interrogation and torture. Leslie Boctor has more from Cairo.

The report titled Egypt - Systematic Abuses in the Name of Security, says 18,000 detainees are languishing in Egyptian prisons, without being charged or tried, in inhumane and intolerable conditions. Some have been imprisoned for as long as a decade.

The report charges that Egyptian authorities are carrying out massive arbitrary arrests, convicting people in unfair proceedings, with little evidence to substantiate the charges. The report accuses Egypt of using suspension, electrocution, and rape to torture prisoners.

Amnesty International Researcher Sa'id Haddidi says the country's emergency laws have created a parallel justice system that does not respect a suspect's right to a fair trial.

"People are not allowed to have prompt access to lawyers and the lawyers on the other hand are not allowed easy access to the filed documents," he said. "And when these defendants come before the court, they deny the charges against them, they say they have been tortured by state security investigation services and there is no proper investigation in these allegations of torture."

Haddidi says that since September 11, 2001, the United States and many European nations, including the United Kingdom, have sent terror suspects to Egypt.

While on a visit to the United States in 2005, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif acknowledged that between 60 and 70 suspects had been transferred to Egypt by U.S. intelligence since September 2001.

The report highlights a number of cases of unlawful transfer, including that of a man known as Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric who was allegedly abducted in Milan by the CIA and transferred to Cairo. Abu Omar spent four years in prison in Egypt, where he says he was repeatedly tortured.

Egypt's Interior Ministry has denied the torture allegations made by Abu Omar, stating that he was detained because of his connections to an Egyptian Islamic Jihad group. Abu Omar was released in February.

Amnesty's Deputy Director Curt Goering compares recent changes in Egypt's constitution to the U.S. Patriot Act, which he calls an assault on human rights, and he urges Egypt not to follow suit.

"Consider the U.S. Patriot Act," he said. "This act has been the most radical assault on constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms in decades. We have now had time to see the results, the violation of human rights, civil liberties on a large scale and I am here today to say to the government of Egypt, 'Do not follow the U.S. example'."

The report comes on the heels of Egypt's controversial referendum last month. Amnesty warns that constitutional changes approved by Egyptian voters will entrench patterns of abuse witnessed over the past 40 years.

Amnesty urges the Egyptian government to safeguard human rights in the new anti-terrorism law that was approved.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, warn that the new amendment allows for arbitrary arrests and police searches without a warrant. It also allows the president to bypass ordinary courts and refer cases to courts that have no appeal process, such as a military or emergency court. The report describes the military court system as having a long history of conducting grossly unfair trials.

Egypt's record on torture came into the spotlight following a string of mobile phone videos documenting police torture and brutality. The plight of a 21-year-old taxi driver made international headlines this year when a blogger posted a cell-phone video of police torturing him. In a rare move, Egyptian authorities placed the police officers charged with the crime on trial last month.