The Associated Press
February 12, 2009
By PAUL SCHEMM
CAIRO (AP) — The rules were simple: Don't touch the blindfold. The handcuffs stay on. Speak only when spoken to — and then only in a low voice.
Newly released German-Egyptian activist Philip Rizk said Thursday that he was interrogated by Egypt's State Security for four days, accused of being everything from an Israeli spy to a gunrunner for the militant group Hamas.
Rizk was arrested by security officers last Friday after participating in a small march outside Cairo calling for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip — a closure imposed by Egypt and Israel after Hamas gunmen seized control of the Palestinian territory in June 2007.
Rizk was held in solitary confinement for four days while friends, family and German diplomats inquired about his whereabouts and the reasons for his detention. Then he was abruptly dropped off at his apartment before dawn Wednesday.
His detention reflects Egypt's increasing sensitivity over any criticism of its policies on Gaza and Hamas. Hundreds of members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood have been jailed, along with a half dozen young vocal bloggers like Rizk who put their criticism online.
Egypt has made no official comment on Rizk's detention, and he was never charged.
Rizk called himself lucky because he was held only a few days and wasn't hurt, ascribing that to his dual nationality and a spirited campaign for his release conducted by friends. Human rights groups allege that torture, including sexual abuse, is commonplace for Egypt's approximately 18,000 political prisoners.
"What happened for a period of four days is that I did nothing much more than answer questions while being interrogated, or sleeping, or trying to sleep," the 27-year-old Rizk told reporters gathered on his balcony in a leafy suburb Thursday, his birthday.
"I was blindfolded the entire time, was wearing handcuffs the entire time except for a few occasions," usually during questioning, he said. He added that he was allowed only one shower.
Rizk said two men questioned him repeatedly about his life, his friends and acquaintances, and his activities. When his answers displeased them, they would replace the handcuffs and make him stand, he said.
"Everything in your head, we want to take it out," he quoted one interrogator as telling him.
Rather than physical abuse, "it was more the threats of what could happen to me if I were not to say the truth," Rizk said.
"I heard sounds of things going on around me," including screams, he said. "I don't know if they were recordings or they were actually taking place — people being tortured."
Rizk said his questioners accused him of spying for Israel and then of dealing weapons to Israel's staunch enemy, Hamas.
Until his detention, Rizk operated a blog highlighting the plight of Palestinians called Tabula Gaza and was a graduate student in Middle East studies at the American University in Cairo.
He said that while he was in custody security officers went to his apartment and took his computers, cameras, portable hard drives and the research notes for his master's thesis. They also broke into e-mail accounts and read all his mail, he said.
"They've taken my blog down which I've worked on since 2006. They have more control over parts of my life than I do. This is a horrible feeling. It took some time to sink in," Rizk said.