Last edited: January 01, 2005

"I Want to Go Home" Sixteen Year Old’s Desperate Plea

Boy Tells Journalist He Was Beaten With a "Falaka"

Police Prevent Boy Phoning Home, October 31, 2001

Tariq Maalouf writes

Today, Wednesday, October 31, 2001, was the first appeal hearing of the case of the minor, Mahmoud Abdel Fatah, sixteen years old, arrested when just fifteen for "habitually practicing debauchery" in connection with the fifty two others detained on the same charge. The hearing was before a Juvenile Court in Abbesiya, Cairo.

At about 10:30, a line of minors came into the building two by two. Twenty of them were dressed in the prison’s blue outfit. Each two were chained together with metal handcuffs. The blue outfit shows that they are all sentenced to prison and that their cases are under appeal. Six younger minors, aged 8 to 12, also chained in metal handcuffs, followed the twenty. They were dressed in dirty rags. When I came nearer to them they smelled awful. It was obvious that there is not even the bare minimum of hygiene in the prison.

All the twenty-six were crowded into a cage inside courtroom number three, on the ground floor of the building. The room was big and crowded with lawyers and some families. The judge was in a separate chamber off to one side. Each of the detainees was called by name to go into this side room with his lawyer.

Mahmoud Abdel Fatah was number eleven on the list. There were five lawyers attending with him including Taher Aboul Nasr from the Hisham Mubarak Centere. Also present was Feras Abou-Younes, a Lebanese lawyer and human rights activist, who was there as an observer representing four organizations, Amnesty International, Defense for Children International, Human Rights Watch and International Federation for Human Rights.

During the hearing, the prosecutor gave a speech which Mr. Abou-Younes described as "pure rhetoric, completely irrelevant to the case, a restating of religious discourse and with no legal basis."

It is worth to say that the judge seemed to have been informed of Mr. Abou-Younes’ visit, and knew him by name. He started by asking whom among those present was Mr. Feras Abou-Younes. Then asked him if he had any requests, to which Mr. Abou-Younes answered that he had just come as an observer. At the end, the judge adjourned the hearing until 21 November 2001.

While the juveniles were in the ‘cage’, many of the mothers surrounded it and talked to their children. This encouraged me to come closer and look for Mahmoud. Standing there I heard one of them telling his mother that the food is very little and that each two share one meal!

I couldn’t know who is Mahmoud among the children so I called his name and he answered. While all of the children were chained to each other with handcuffs he was the only one chained alone to the bars of the cage. I was able to ask him if he needed anything to which he replied "I want to go home.", then burst into tears. It was a very depressing scene.

When he calmed a little bit, I asked him about the treatment inside the Institute of Correction. He said that the treatment was "very bad" but that he was only beaten at the beginning during the interrogations. I asked him how. He said that they beat him on the soles of his feet with a "Falaka." [a thick stick which is usually used for punishment and torture after the victim has been tied down.]

His tears were falling while he was looking at the other children’s mothers as none of his family had come. An Egyptian journalist offered him his mobile to call someone but just after he dialed the number, a guard noticed, went into the cage and took the mobile. The journalist after presenting his credentials and mitigating the transgression with a little baksheesh was able to retrieve his phone but it was little consolation for Mahmoud for whom the last opportunity to contact friends and family had gone.

  • Tariq Maalouf is a free-lance journalist who has written articles for the Guardian and The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers. If you wish to contact him please write to Tariq Maalouf, Flat 5, 235 Earls Court Road, London SW5.

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