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As Egypt's presidential election presents extraordinary challenges, GlobalPost offers this continuing series to shed light on how the country will move forward under its first-ever civilian head of state and how the soon-to-be-drafted constitution will protect civil rights in a new Egypt. 

Thousands rally for alleged torture victim Essam Atta

Rage at Egypt's military leadership as crowd invokes revolutionary icon Khaled Said.

being done to him. He said he was consistently beaten, tortured, and mistreated.

The family could not easily afford the cost of transportation to Tora so cell phone calls were typically the only means of communication for weeks at a time.

One of Atta’s prison mates called Neama and her family on Thursday to let them know Atta’s body could be found at Kasr el-Aini hospital. They say they never got an official call from Tora Prison.

Aida Seif, a doctor and prominent Egyptian human rights activist at the Hisham Mubarak Center who was among the protesters, asked to oversee the autopsy process.

Seif said that since it was Friday, a national holiday, not all coroners authorized to conduct autopsies were present at the morgue.

“The doctors here today are only allowed to admit the bodies, they are not authorized or capable of doing a full, thorough autopsy,” she said.

“As I entered, I saw a dirty room, walls and floors stained with blood and not even a microscope they could use to examine,” she said. “They had already started cutting the body before I came in to observe and they did not examine each organ as one should in an autopsy.”

Seif said she saw they had already cut from his chin down to his esophagus. 

“His esophagus was removed in placed in a jar, next to a rolled up swaddle of an unknown substance,” she added. “The doctors there were all incompetent, at one point one of them told me that I could roll up my sleeve and grab a glove to dig in if I wanted.”

The autopsy report reports no injuries to Atta’s face or body, except for a small exterior bruise to his right side. However a widely circulated picture taken after his death shows a very swollen face.

And Atta’s mother, sister, and father, who all saw him one last time after the coroners finished said that his face was bruised heavily and that he was bleeding from the side of his mouth.

"He looks so horrifying,” said his father, Ali Atta. “This is not the Atta I know, I don't recognize him."

The report also stated that a small capsule of hashish was found inside his stomach, a detail that echoes the case of Khaled Said.

Authorities had alleged that Said died from swallowing a wad of marijuana that he had tried to hide as the two officers approached him.

“What we are seeing now is Khaled Said number two,” said Seif.


Rampant torture cases in Egypt’s prisons and police stations were seen as one of the leading triggers of the country’s popular uprising.

At the time of his February arrest, Atta was rounded up and charged with “thuggery” with a group of bystanders as he stood to watch a fight that broke out, his sister Hanan told GlobalPost.

According to Atta’s family lawyer, Malek Adly, the family is filing a case to the Prosecutor General, accusing the officers at Tora Prison of torturing their son. They are also filing a case against the Ministry of Interior.

“The Ministry of Interior tried to sign off on his case, saying he died from drug poisoning and internal bleeding but they are not even legally authorized to do this because they are the accused party in the case of his murder,” he said.

“Every time someone dies as a result of torture, they try to frame him saying he died of drug abuse, but we won’t let this slide, neither will his family and neither will these people,” Adly said, pointing towards the group of angry protesters and activists outside the morgue.

Many Egyptian citizens and activists have been demanding that the military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), hand over power to a civilian government immediately.

“The council is tainted by Mubarak,” said Nehal Adawy, a young teaching assistant at Ain Shams University who was protesting in Tahrir holding a photo of Atta’s brutalized face. “As long as the council remains in power, our lives as Egyptians are threatened.”

Adawy said she fears that under emergency law, which has been imposed on Egypt for 30 years and continues under the military’s rule, any civilian could be randomly arrested for petty crimes and tried in military courts, suffering the same fate as Essam Atta.

Since the military came into power, over 12,000 civilians have been tried in military courts, according to Human Rights Watch.

“We are all unsafe under military rule,” Adawy said. “We want SCAF to hand over power to a civilian council now.”

She continued, “What happened to Essam can happen to any one of us under emergency law, and it can happen to the 12,000 civilians imprisoned now under military rule.”