“We were trying to reassure him,” says Mohamed el-Maligi, an activist detained in the same cell. “He was asking if we were going to beat him and begging us not to sexually abuse him.”
The boy, a 13-year-old also named Mohamed, said he had been arrested earlier that day in central Cairo while selling pocket tissues to passing drivers.
Detained following the nationwide unrest that erupted after the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolt, Mohamed’s fate is a disturbing example of new tactics employed by the security services.
In the wake of the clashes last month, which left scores of people dead, hundreds of children have been illegally detained by the Egyptian police. Many of them have been beaten, tortured, and sexually humiliated by their captors.
According to Karim Ennarah, a researcher for the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the rate of child detention over the past month is “unprecedented.”
While the exact number of children arrested is hard to come by—in part because of recent changes to prosecutorial procedures that make it more difficult to track cases—Priyanka Motaparthy, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, tells The Daily Beast that in Cairo and Port Said alone, there have been more than 170 documented cases of child detentions in the last month. And activists, who point out that other cities such as Alexandria, Suez, and Tanta have also experienced unrest, say the problem is nationwide. Mahmoud Bilal, a lawyer who works on the issue, estimates there may be as many as 400 cases from around the country.