Victims of Mubarak regime await justice

The mixed verdict in Mubarak's trial on Saturday is a painful reminder that 15 months after the authoritarian leader's removal from power, there has been no move to bring about full accountability for wrongdoing under his regime.

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CAIRO // Nasr Al Sayed Hassan Nasr was tied to a bed and tortured for days with electric shocks during his detention in 2010 for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood.

He was just one of tens of thousands of political prisoners under Hosni Mubarak's 29-year rule.

Stripped and handcuffed in a painful position, Mr Nasr described how security agents applied electric shocks to his chest, genitals and other parts of his body.

"They hadn't asked me a single question at this stage. They seemed to just want me to collapse," he told Human Rights Watch. And, as with virtually all the abuses under Mubarak's regime, the perpetrators were never brought to justice.

The mixed verdict in Mubarak's trial on Saturday is a painful reminder that 15 months after the authoritarian leader's removal from power, there has been no move to bring about full accountability for wrongdoing under his regime.

Mubarak, 84, and his former security chief, Habib El Adly, were both convicted of failing to stop the killings of about 900 protesters during last year's uprising and were sentenced to life in prison. However, six top police commanders were acquitted of ordering the killings and Chief Judge Ahmed Refaat criticised the prosecution for failing to provide evidence that police killed protesters.

In addition, Mubarak and his two sons were acquitted of corruption charges because the statute of limitations had expired.

The verdict has brought a new sense of urgency to bring justice to victims of abuses under Mubarak's regime.

On Sunday, politicians presented to parliament a "revolutionary justice" bill drawn up by rights activists that would create special courts to try members of Mubarak's regime for crimes including torture and corruption. Judges on the special courts would be required to have no tie to the old government, and judicial bodies would be created to collect evidence and testimony.

A key lesson to be taken from the verdict is "that the human-rights community should have pushed for torture prosecutions from ministry of interior officials in the immediate aftermath of the uprising because that was our one opportunity before the system started pushing back," said Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Egypt.

Under Mubarak, tens of thousands of political prisoners were detained under emergency laws that expired last week after 31 years. And while there were no mass killings along the lines of South Africa during apartheid, torture was systematic, and often extreme, and corruption was endemic.

The same torture practices were repeatedly used in detention centres, it said, including "beatings, flogging, burning with cigarettes, rape threats, covering eyes, stripping the detainees naked".

"They were quite good at torturing," Ms Morayef said. "You would get medical treatment in the midst of torture. They tried not to kill people in torture ... If someone died, it was a mistake."

The numbers of those who died from torture are not believed to be large. The total for Mubarak's three-decade rule may be less than the approximately 900 killed in the 18-day uprising, rights activists said.

Between 1990 and 1995 alone, there were 15,000 people detained under the emergency laws, which gave police sweeping powers to arrest and hold people with few or no rights, said Nasser Amin, a prominent rights lawyer.

The total number of political prisoners taken during the entire regime is believed to be as high as 100,000, said another rights lawyer, Mohammed Zarei. He added that in 1997 alone there were 23,000 detainees in Egyptian jails. Some spent 20 years in prison without trial.

Mr Zarei said there were about 300,000 complaints filed by detainees that have never been addressed.

Egypt's ruling military and the politically influenced judiciary have done "as little as possible" to hold the old regime to account since Mubarak was ousted in February last year, said Shadi Hamid, the director of research for Brookings Doha Centre.

"They had to sentence Mubarak as a political concession to mass opinion," he said, adding that the convictions could be overturned by an appeals court free of political influence.

"What is so troubling about the judgment is that no one is being held responsible for ordering the killings of hundreds of Egyptians," he said.