February 10, 2017

Without warning, Egyptian officials shutter Cairo center for torture victims


Nadeem Center co-founders at a press conference in Cairo last year. Image via Danish Institute Against Torture.

After a year of harassment by the Egyptian government, Cairo’s Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence was shut down by authorities yesterday. The closure—executed by fifteen plainclothes policemen on a day when the clinic was closed—marked a terrible development for the nonprofit organization, which provides counseling and medical treatment to people who’ve been tortured by security forces and has played a crucial role in documenting practices the government publicly denies.

In an interview with Ahram.org, Aida Seif Elldawla, a psychiatrist and one of the center’s founders, said that “this is the latest in a series of attacks against whoever says an opposing word in this country.” The Center has been under threat since last February, when security forces raided the premises and ordered it to close without offering any explanation—the government later cited violations of its license. They had been appealing the decision in court, with a verdict expected this month, but yesterday’s raid occurred without warning and no official decision has been announced.

Nothing about the way the closure was carried out is surprising, of course. Last year, Melville House author Basma Abdel Aziz, who previously worked at the Nadeem Center, told the Associated Press that “the police and security agencies are not at all concerned about their image,” and often intend to send a “message to the public.” If her novel The Queue tells us anything about oppressive regimes, it’s that they are predictably random in the way they target their critics. 

According to the Ahram.org report, the Center had already had its bank account temporarily frozen by the Egyptian Central Bank in November. In the same month, Seif Elldawla was also banned from traveling to Tunisia for a conference on rehabilitating torture victims.

For now, at least, it appears that the Center’s staff are safe. Seif Elldawla said that their doorman had been taken in for questioning, but was then released. It’s not clear what recourse, if any, they have.

Nadia Bounaim, the Deputy Director for Campaigns at Amnesty International’s Tunis office, issued a statement saying, “The move exposes the chilling extremes to which the authorities are prepared to go in their relentless and unprecedented persecution of human rights activists in recent years.”

Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.