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The Egyptian authorities are committing systematic abuses of human rights in the name of national security, and planned anti-terror legislation could make the situation worse, according to an Amnesty International report released on Wednesday in Cairo.
The London-based human rights organization says in the report, entitled "Egypt: Systematic Abuses in the Name of Security," that recent constitutional amendments and new anti-terrorism legislation in the works would "perpetuate abuses."
According to Amnesty, thousands of Egyptians have been locked up, with many sentenced after unfair trials in emergency and military courts. Torture and prolonged detention without trial are rife in detention centers across the country, the report states.
Egypt's State Security Investigations (SSI) services enjoy huge powers under the state of emergency, says the report, which the government has maintained almost continuously for the past 40 years.
Highly critical of Egypt's alleged policy of torture and illegal detention, the report accuses the country of being an international center for interrogation and torture on behalf of other states as part of the "war on terror."
It calls on Egypt to make certain that new anti-terrorism laws comply "fully with international human rights law and practices" and for the government to publicly condemn torture and other ill-treatment. The report also calls on Egypt to ensure that all allegations of such abuses are promptly and independently investigated, with the perpetrators brought to justice.
Amnesty has also urged Cairo to end incommunicado and administrative detention and make public the names of all alleged terrorist suspects who have been transferred to Egypt from the custody of other countries. The human rights organization has also urged Egypt to allow UN human rights experts on torture and on countering terrorism to visit the country.
The report calls for other countries to abandon "no torture" arrangements with Egypt. Under such deals, governments, including Britain, deport suspects to Egypt, assured by Egyptian authorities that they will not suffer torture.
"A 'no torture' deal with Egypt would not be worth the paper it was written on, and rather than bargain over illegal detention and torture the UK should unequivocally condemn torture in Egypt," said Kate Allen, Amnesty's UK director.
Amnesty said it conducted interviews with victims of abuse and their relatives, government officials, human rights activists, lawyers and others for the report.
It details the cases of a number of victims such as Mamdouh Habib, an Australian national of Egyptian descent. He alleges he was detained and tortured in Pakistan in 2001, handed over to US officials and taken to Egypt.
There, he says he was tortured, including in a "water cell," where he had to stand on tiptoe for hours in order not to drown before eventually confessing to training the 9-11 terrorists in martial arts. Later he was taken to Guantanamo Bay, where he was released without charge in 2005.
The report comes nearly a month after the organization warned that proposed constitutional amendments would "enforce existing practices of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and unfair trials and further erode human rights protection in Egypt."
The report was launched at the Press Syndicate in Cairo by Curt Goering, deputy director of Amnesty International USA; Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy program director for the Middle East; and Said Haddadi, researcher on North Africa at Amnesty's International Secretariat.