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Jihan Hafiz reports on mass protest demanding accountability for crimes against prisoners

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JIHAN HAFIZ, TRNN: Another mother wails in pain for her son. Twenty-four-year-old Essam Atta became the latest victim of state brutality in Egypt. He was tortured to death at the hands of military police officers at the infamous Tora Prison. His coffin was brought to Tahrir Square as a reminder to many that post-revolutionary Egypt bears the same scars as the former regime. Twenty-four-year-old Essam Atta was one of thousands to be tried and sentenced before military courts since former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted more than eight months ago. He was convicted of thuggery, charges human rights groups have called spurious. His two-year sentence came to a violent end days before his appeal. Atta’s lawyer saw no bruising to his body but said water was leaking from his anus and mouth. Human rights activists say Atta was sodomized to death with water pipes, punishment for sneaking a SIM card into prison.

PROTESTER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We’re not going to let go of the Egyptian flag until the martyrs receive justice, including the prisoners of the struggle and all of the people of the revolution. From the military council to the interior ministry: you are extending your might over the people’s misery.

HAFIZ: Atta’s death brought back dark memories of Egypt’s recent past. The infamous case of 26-year-old Khaled Said made him the face of state brutality before the revolution. He too was tortured to death by police officers and his case galvanized hundreds of thousands of Egyptians into the popular uprising in January that toppled Mubarak. Photos of Atta’s corpse began to circulate on the Internet a day after two police officers involved in Khaled Said’s murder were sentenced to seven years in prison.

(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We do not have faith in the current system. The military’s attitude towards the people is corrupt. We’re used to it. However, what’s currently taking place in Egypt is a big secret. The policing institution is playing a very dangerous role.

HAFIZ: Meanwhile, members of Egypt’s hated police force went on strike throughout the week. Thousands of low-level police officers in front of the Ministry of Interior called for their current bosses to step down and for better wages. Some admit off-camera the state security apparatus permits a culture of arbitrary detention, bribes, and torture. Human rights groups documented hundreds of detainees died of torture and maltreatment during the Mubarak regime. In 2002, Amnesty International warned anyone taken into detention in Egypt was at risk of torture. Activists say nothing has changed since Mubarak was replaced by the military council. Demonstrations against the government erupted throughout Egypt upon word of Atta’s death. Those protesting the military council foresee a future where the remnants of the former regime maintain tight control over Egypt regardless of the upcoming elections.

(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): All of the political parties have capitalized on the blood of the martyrs and until today have not taken decisions in Egypt and the revolution’s best interest. The Egyptian political parties are a part of the system. They are elites, sitting there and make decisions. They are autocrats who do not care about the Egyptian people’s interests!

HAFIZ: Recently, posters calling for Field Marshal Khaled Hussein Tantawi [sic] to run for president were plastered in several cities throughout the country. Fears run high that the military will not relinquish its power.

(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): He wants to maintain a military regime, and will do anything to stay in power. He’ll surround himself with people that he knows from the military. And we don’t want that. We want a civilian government.

HAFIZ: The latest torture death has angered many Egyptians.

CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We want our own terms! This is our revolution! Freedom!

HAFIZ: Large crowds marched to the despised state TV and radio building, where protesters were confrontational towards the police.

(SUBTITLED TRANSL.): (to the police) You are below my shoes, you sons of filth!

HAFIZ: As unemployment skyrockets in the Arab’s world’s most populous nation and frustration toward the military council intensifies, many Egyptians believe the country could be on the verge of a second revolution. Activists vow to expand their efforts against the military council in hopes of disrupting what they call another rigged parliamentary election. Jihan Hafiz for The Real News in Cairo, Egypt.

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Jihan Hafiz reported for The Real News Network while in Libya in February and March 2011