MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Egypt's health minister says at least 365 civilians died during the 18 days of protest. That estimate doesn't include police or prisoners. There are also many questions about how many Egyptians were detained during the uprising and what's become of them.
Heba Morayef is trying to find out. She's a researcher in Cairo for Human Rights Watch, and she joins me by Skype.
Heba, what is your best estimate so far of the number of people who were detained during these protests?
HEBA MORAYEF: Well, overall, the military police throughout the past few weeks has detained thousands of people, but the arrests that we're particularly interested in are the ones that are arbitrary: arrests of peaceful protesters, of journalists, of activists, arrests for which there could be no justification.
And of these arbitrary arrests, we have a list of at least 150 at this point. There may be many more. One of the challenges in documentation that we faced is that all of these arrests have been arbitrary, so it's been impossible to actually get confirmation of people's arrests while they're in detention. It's only been possible to speak to them after they've been released.
BLOCK: Are you also finding out or getting this number from hearing from family members who say, look, I have someone in my family who went out into the streets, they've disappeared. I think they were arrested. Somebody saw them being taken in.
MORAYEF: There are lots of cases of people who are still missing or are disappeared. In some cases, you know, families have come to us saying the last time I saw my brother, he was with us here on the square, and then, he went out to get something to eat and never came back. In this case in particular, three days later, he'd been released, and it turned out that he'd been arrested by the military. But because he was being detained in-comunicado, he couldn't even tell his family where he was.
There are other (unintelligible) cases that are a lot more tragic, where families have been trying to find their loved ones since January 28th. The best-case scenario is that these people may still be detained by the military but just unable to contact their families because the military refuses to publicly announce the list of people they're detaining.
But the worst-case scenario is - and especially for the cases of people who disappeared on January 28th and 29th - that they may have actually been killed in the violence of those two days.
BLOCK: Heba Morayef, of the people who have been released from detention, what accounts are you hearing about how they were treated while they were in prison?
MORAYEF: The accounts have varied quite drastically. Many of the people we spoke to were detained in not very good conditions, so the quality and the quantity of food was minimal. They were made to sit on the floor and weren't provided with any bedding, but at least in many of those cases, they weren't beaten.
But we've also documented, so far, 11 cases of torture by the military police of detainees. These are of very serious concern because they occurred during interrogations. It was targeted, sustained beating of the detainees, in some cases also electroshocks and in one of the cases I spoke to also hanging in contorted positions.
BLOCK: Apart from the protesters who were detained in the last couple of weeks, you, obviously, are also concerned about the many thousands of political prisoners who were detained before the uprising began, and they can be held without charge under emergency law. What of them and what sort of movement, if any, are you seeing from the transitional government about getting those cases moved through the system?
MORAYEF: We haven't seen any movement yet. We've seen an initial commitment early on to lift the state of emergency and the application of the emergency law, which is what allows for these detentions. But since then, we're yet to see an actual timeframe for lifting the state of emergency.
There are an estimated 10,000 detainees held under the emergency law, and this number was recently confirmed by the minister of interior at a press conference.
Our call to the military has been that they need to make a commitment right now to give a timeframe because what is clear is that this is crucial in terms of making a break with the past and the abusive practices by the ministry of interior, and also that it's impossible to have a fair and free election while the country remains in a state of emergency.
BLOCK: Heba Morayef is a researcher with Human Rights Watch based in Cairo.
Ms. Morayef, thank you very much.
MORAYEF: Thank you.
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