CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian activist who died on Monday was beaten unconscious during interrogation at a security camp where he was detained for three days, two security sources said on Tuesday.
Human rights campaigners say the same brutal tactics that helped ignite the uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak two years ago are back under the auspices of freely elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
Mohamed el-Gendi, 23, was rounded up along with other youth protesters on January 25, the second anniversary of the start of the anti-Mubarak revolt, and taken to Gabal Ahmar, a state security camp on the outskirts of Cairo.
Gendi remained there for three days and nights when he was “interrogated” and beaten, the sources said, adding that the officers had become more aggressive when he talked back to them.
The interior ministry denied accusations that Gendi was tortured, saying in its report on the matter that he was found injured on the street after he was hit by a car on January 28, and taken to Cairo’s Hilal hospital where he died some days later.
The security sources spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity as they are not authorised to speak to journalists.
At least 59 people have died in the latest street violence to hit Egypt, which has been in political turmoil since Mubarak’s fall with the latest demonstrations protesting at Mursi’s perceived drift towards authoritarianism.
To many Egyptians, Gendi’s case recalls that of Khaled Said, a youth who activists said was tortured to death by police in 2011. Said’s case helped ignite the uprising.
“We are seeing a return of police brutality that was the hallmark of Mubarak’s rule,” said Hafez Abo Seida from the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights.
Mursi’s office said on Monday it was in touch with the public prosecutor to look into the causes of Gendi’s death.
“The presidency stresses that there shall be no return to violating the rights of citizens, their public and private freedoms in light of the rule of law and the blessed January 25 revolution,” it said in a statement.
Abo Seida said there was an apparent campaign against youth activists agitating against Mursi’s rule, what they see as the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip on power and a police force not held accountable for the deaths of some 850 anti-Mubarak protesters.
Two other activists, Gaber Salah (known as Jika) and Mohamed Hussein (known as Mohamed Christie), killed in violent protests over the past month were known to be active on Facebook pages critical of the Brotherhood.
Gendi belonged to the leftist Popular Current, which said he had also been electrocuted in custody and was left with a wire around his neck.
Doctors at Hilal hospital said Gendi was in a coma when he died, having suffered brain and lung injuries as well as multiple fractures. They made no mention of traces of electrocution or strangulation.
“He was unconscious when he was delivered to Hilal hospital,” a medic there told Reuters.
Since Mursi took office seven months ago, little has been done to overhaul the national police or rehabilitate its leadership, which had been accused by international and local human rights groups of perpetrating routine abuses.
Activists and Egyptian officials say Mursi has taken few steps to hold officers accountable, fearing a backlash from the powerful police generals who run the interior ministry.
Abo Seida said Mursi and Prime Minister Hisham Kandil had given the police a license to use force by ordering them to deal firmly with any protests that turned violent.
“President Mursi has been trying to motivate the police force and encourage them to return to policing the streets to establish order. But clearly these officers are not equipped with the right tactics to deal with protesters,” he said.
The recent tide of unrest has been fuelled by anger at what activists see as Mursi’s attempt to monopolise power since his election, as well as a sense of social and economic malaise that has settled over Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster.
A state of emergency remains in force in three cities near the Suez Canal that have also witnessed protests against Mursi and the Brotherhood, the Islamist group that propelled him to power in a June election.
Reporting by Marwa Awad and Alexander Dziadosz; editing by Mark Heinrich