Egypt blogger freed after ‘weeks of torture

A blogger released after weeks behind bars over deadly protests at Egypt’s biggest textile plant for higher pay and controls on prices, said Monday he and his fellow detainees suffered weeks of “torture”.

“We were subjected to electric shocks, to beatings and there was no food and or drink for the first few days,” blogger Karim el-Beheiri told AFP a day after his release. “We went through weeks of torture and humiliation.”

Beheiri, Tarek Amin and Kamal al-Fayoumy, three worker activists, were arrested on April 6 at the Misr Spinning and Weaving company in the Nile Delta industrial city of Mahalla after riots which left three people dead and hundreds detained.

An interior ministry official confirmed the three had been released but denied they had been mistreated.

“These are false accusations,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity. “Everything took place within a framework of human rights.”

They were accused of “inciting unrest, damage to property and demonstrating,” a security official told AFP, adding that of the hundreds detained in connection with the Mahalla riots, eight remain in custody.

The three were fired from their jobs after their arrest, said Beheiri, whose detention was condemned by international human rights watchdogs.

“Many of us had never seen the inside of a prison before,” Beheiri said, describing his first weeks at Borg al-Arab prison near the Mediterranean city of Alexandria sharing a small cell with 25 people as “terrifying.”

“We had bread thrown at us. They would dip their hands in our food before throwing it at us,” said Beheiri who, with the others, mounted two hunger strikes while in detention.

On April 16, the prosecution ordered the release of several detainees including Beheiri, Fayoumy and Amin, but the three remained behind bars until Sunday.

Beheiri said that during interrogations at state security headquarters in various Egyptian cities, questioning focused mainly on his blog and his connections to other bloggers.

“It’s the new fashion,” he said of a large-scale crackdown against Egypt’s cyber dissidents.

He said the first thing he wanted to do when he got home after the release was to blog the events.

“But I couldn’t remember my own password. It was so frustrating,” he said.

Symbolic of their rise to power, Egyptian police have arrested several political bloggers in recent months.

But despite Egypt’s Internet explosion, the cyber realm remains largely the preserve of the young and educated in a country where 40 percent of the population of 80 million people cannot read.

Nevertheless, Egypt’s bloggers, who rarely conceal their real identity, have taken on the role of bridging the gap between civil society’s desire for democracy and workers’ demands for better pay and working conditions.

In a country where there is little access to live and independent Egyptian reporting, blogs and “real time” social networking sites like Twitter provide regular but unverified updates on events, such as elections and protests.

In recent months, Egypt has seen a number of strikes and protests against low salaries and price rises that have been one of the most serious challenges to the regime of veteran President Hosni Mubarak

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