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Egypt Rejects Amnesty International's Report on Torture, Abuse

Egypt has rejected a report by the human rights group Amnesty International. The report accuses the country of systematic torture and abuse. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called the report "offensive" and unfair". For VOA, Leslie Boctor has more from Cairo.

Amnesty International's report says more than 18,000 people are being detained and that some have been held for as long as a decade. It says torture and abuse are routine practices at police stations and in prisons. It also says Egypt was a center for torture for a number of countries, including the United States and Britain, which have transferred terror suspects to the country for interrogation and detention.

In a statement Thursday, Egypt's Foreign Ministry said Cairo was offended by the report which it called "biased" and "unfair". The statement said Egypt has made "real and continuous achievements" in human rights. It pointed to the newly formed National Council of Human Rights, chaired by former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali.

The report warns that recent amendments to Egypt's constitution would allow for the suspension of civil rights in terror investigations. It would also allow suspects to be tried in military courts, which have no appeal process. The report states that Egypt's new anti-terrorism law, still being drafted, would "entrench patterns of abuse witnessed over the past 40 years."

Amnesty's Deputy Director Hassiba Sahraoui warns that the situation in Egypt will likely get worse. She says the recent amendments, which pave the way for the new terrorism law, will weaken legal safeguards against torture.

"I would say it's getting worse, said Sahraoui. "The few safeguards that we had in place in the constitution are now being attacked. So you are actually now making sure that there will be no supervision of any future abuse, so in that sense, it is getting worse."

The Foreign Ministry blasted Amnesty for giving what it called an advance opinion about a law that hasn't been shaped yet.

The report also urges countries to reject "no-torture" agreements with Egypt. Under such deals, Egyptian authorities have given assurances, including to the U.K., that deported Egyptian nationals will not be tortured when they return home.

The report also details five cases of Egyptians who have been "unlawfully" returned to the country since September 11, 2001, describing them as "beyond the protection of the law". It cites the high-profile case of Abu Omar, the 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. He was released in February.

Amnesty says torture often occurs within the context of domestic and international anti-terror operations and that none of the allegations has been investigated by Egyptian authorities.

In 2005, Egypt's prime minister acknowledged that between 60 and 70 suspects had been transferred to Egypt by U.S. intelligence since September 2001.