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'I Can't Find My Son, He's Disappeared': Egypt's Army Secretly Jailing and Torturing Protesters?

The Egyptian military has secretly detained hundreds and possibly thousands of suspected government opponents.

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Others have not been so lucky. Heba Morayef, a Human Rights Watch researcher in Cairo, said: "A lot of families are calling us and saying: 'I can't find my son, he's disappeared.' I think what's happening is that they're being arrested by the military."

Among those missing is Kareem Amer, a prominent government critic and blogger only recently released after serving a four-year prison sentence for criticising the regime. He was picked up on Monday evening at a military checkpoint late at night as he was leaving Tahrir Square.

Bahgat said the pattern of accounts from those released showed the military had been conducting a campaign to break the protests. "Some people, especially the activists, say they were interrogated about any possible links to political organisations or any outside forces. For the ordinary protesters, they get slapped around and asked: 'Why are you in Tahrir?' It seems to serve as an interrogation operation and an intimidation and deterrence."

The military has claimed to be neutral in the political standoff and both Mubarak and his prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, have said there will be no "security pursuit" of anti-government activists. But Morayef says this is clearly not the case.

"I think it's become pretty obvious by now that the military is not a neutral party. The military doesn't want and doesn't believe in the protests and this is even at the lower level, based on the interrogations," she said.

Human Rights Watch says it has documented 119 arrests of civilians by the military but believes there are many more. Bahgat said it was impossible to know how many people had been detained because the army is not acknowledging the arrests. But he believes that the pattern of disappearances seen in Cairo is replicated across the country.

"Detentions either go completely unreported or they are unable to inform their family members or any lawyer of their detention so they are much more difficult to assist or look for," he said. "Those held by the military police are not receiving any due process either because they are unaccounted for and they are unable to inform anyone of their detention."

Human Rights Watch has also documented detentions including an unnamed democracy activist who described being stopped by a soldier who insisted on searching his bag, where he found a pro-democracy flyer.

"They started beating me up in the street their rubber batons and an electric Taser gun, shocking me," the activist said.

"Then they took me to Abdin police station. By the time I arrived, the soldiers and officers there had been informed that a 'spy' was coming, and so when I arrived they gave me a 'welcome beating' that lasted some 30 minutes."

While pro-government protesters have also been detained by the army during clashes in Tahrir Square, it is believed that they have been handed on to police and then released, rather than being held and tortured.

The detainee was held in a cell until an interrogator arrived, ordered him to undress and attached cables from an "electric shock machine".

"He shocked me all over my body, leaving no place untouched. It wasn't a real interrogation; he didn't ask that many questions. He tortured me twice like this on Friday, and one more time on Saturday," he said.

 
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