The death of a prisoner, allegedly under police torture, has sparked public anger against Egypt’s ruling military council, accused by rights groups of pursuing security practices familiar from the era of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Essam Atta, 23, died in Tora prison south of Cairo on Thursday, according to the Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture. A military court had jailed him for two years in February for offences including “thuggery”.
Protesters carried his body on Friday from the morgue to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak uprising, chanting against the military council and Interior Ministry.
“Since we started operating in 1993 till now, torture hasn’t stopped for one day,” said the Nadeem Centre’s director, Aida Seif el-Dawla, who said both the police and military now practiced it, a charge the authorities deny.
Atta’s family accused prison officers of torturing him by inserting a hose in his mouth and anus and pumping water and soap into his body causing mass bleeding that led to his death.
The Interior Ministry said he had died of “poisoning”.
Human rights campaigners have compared Atta’s death to that of Khaled Said, an online activist whose killing by police in Alexandria helped ignite the revolt that toppled Mubarak.
According to Atta’s brother Mohamed, his mother gave her son a mobile phone card on Oct. 25. Another prisoner told prison police, saying Atta was smuggling drugs.
“Police officers ended the visit and started beating him; his mother could hear his cries calling for help from outside the room,” Mohamed Atta told Egypt’s al-Nahar satellite channel.
He said he had seen his brother’s body in hospital after Atta’s cellmates called him to tell he was dead. “I saw him bleeding from everywhere and bubbles on his body,” he said.
Mahmoud Afify, a spokesman of the April 6 movement, which helped mobilize crowds against Mubarak, cast doubt on the Interior Ministry account. “Our previous experiences prove that they are liars,” he said, citing the Khaled Said case.
An Egyptian court jailed two policemen on Wednesday for seven years for their “cruel” treatment of Said.
The military council which took over after Mubarak quit on Feb. 11 has come under fire for prosecuting civilians in military courts and repressing protests -- including one this month in which 24 Coptic Christians were killed.
Atta’s death roils the atmosphere in Egypt less than a month before the first round of voting in parliamentary elections.