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Detainee abuse is so systematic in Egypt that people are held for years without trial and are liable to torture by electric shocks, beating and being suspended by the wrists or ankles, Amnesty International said Wednesday.
In a new report titled "Egypt - Systematic abuse in the name of security," the London-based rights group urged the Egyptian government to end what it called "grossly unfair" military court trials and instead pledge to investigate torture allegations and repeal legislation that allows for human rights violations.
The group said about 18,000 people are "languishing" in Egypt's jails without being charged or brought to trial. Some have been held for more than a decade and many are detained in degrading and inhumane conditions, it said.
Several forms of torture are used, Amnesty said, including suspension in contorted positions from a horizontal pole and various forms of psychological torture, including threats to kill and threats to rape the detainees or their female relatives.
Amnesty said its report comes a critical time in Egypt because authorities are considering a new anti-terrorism law that threatens to "entrench patterns of abuse witnessed in the past 40 years."
The group urged the government to ensure that the new anti-terrorism constitutional amendment, passed by voters in a controversial referendum last month, complies with international human rights law. Many rights groups, including Amnesty, say the new amendment gives legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and police searches and allows the president to bypass ordinary courts and refer terror suspects to other courts that lack appeal processes.
"Despite Egypt's long and well-publicized record of such serious human rights violations, government in other countries, notably the USA, have chosen to send detainees there in the context of the global "war on terror," the report said. "The resultant abuses ... have been all too predictable.
The report highlighted the case of an Egyptian cleric who claims he was tortured in prison after he was kidnapped in Italy four years ago - allegedly by CIA agents - and sent here for interrogation.
Amnesty said it obtained a copy of an 11-page undated handwritten account by Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, decribing the torture he says he experienced while detained in Egypt. Nasr said he smuggled the letter out of prison.
In the letter, which Amnesty published excerpts in the report, Nasr said he was sodomized, ordered to strip naked and beaten with electric cables and water hoses.
He described one torture tactic called "the mattress" where Nasr said he was ordered to lie on a wet mattress and was electrocuted while two people sat on wooden chairs - one over his shoulder blades and another between his legs, according to the letter published by Amnesty.