Feb. 4, 2011 — -- Wael Abbas, a journalist who has posted hundreds of horrifying videos on police abuse on the web says he was arrested and then released by the Egyptian Army on Friday evening.
Abbas tweeted "arrested by the Army!" just before 7 p.m. Cairo time. Someone using the Twitter handle 'RamyYaacoub' tweeted several minutes later that he was on the phone with Abbas and that Abbas said, "Yes, yes, I was arrested, I am with the military police now." RamyYaacoub then tweeted that Abbas had said he was "okay but in their custody" before the call was cut off.
A little over an hour later, Abbas tweeted that he had been released by the Army, but was being "stopped [at] every single checkpoint." He followed with a tweet that read, "We are getting arrested every five minutes now for looking like foreigners and having a camera and a laptop."
On Thursday, Abbas had told ABC News that he was hiding, trying to stay out of the hands of Mubarak supporters and of Egypt's feared security agencies.
"I'm moving around," Wael Abbas told ABC News from an undisclosed location. "I'm trying to get to a safe place. All my friends have been arrested."
Abbas, a journalist in his mid-30s, is well-known in Egypt as the man behind misrdigital.com, a blog that has been posting police torture videos since February 2005. His latest post, on January 26, shows the dead body of a young protestor in a hospital near the Suez Canal. The man has been shot in the abdomen, and a nurse can be heard screaming into a phone that more wounded are being brought to the hospital.
Human rights groups describe a culture of torture within Egypt's police agencies. The U.S. State Department issued a report in 2009 describing torture, and secret U.S. cables released by WikiLeaks also refer to political repression and "persistent, credible" allegations of abuse. But at the same time, the U.S. has more than a billion dollars in aid annually to the Mubarak regime, and since 1995 has had an agreement with Egypt to deliver suspects for interrogation to the country's intelligence service.
Suspects sent to Egypt under the "extraordinary rendition" program, according to human rights groups, were routinely subjected to torture as part of interrogation.
The same groups, however, say that the average Egyptian is more likely to experience day-to-day torture from the police, who are accused of using torture to extract confessions, or State Security Investigations (SSI), the domestic intelligence agency that rounds up political dissidents.
Abbas's web site tends to feature video from local police stations and from inside prisons. The most infamous video that Abbas posted, shot in 2006, shows bus driver Imad al-Kabir screaming and begging for mercy as officers sodomize him with a rod. The officers later sent copies of the video via cellphone to Kabir's coworkers to humiliate him.
Kabir's crime? He said he was trying to break up a fight between his brother and a police officer. Thanks to the video, and to Kabir's testimony in open court, the police officers were prosecuted and convicted for sodomizing Kabir, and sentenced to three years of hard labor.
"It is a precedent," said Abbas. "It is the first severe punishment for torture."
A 2008 cable released by WikiLeaks appears to laud Abbas for his role in securing the conviction of the officers, referring to an "influential blogger and human rights activist", though his name is redacted.
"We want to do everything we can to assist him in exposing police abuse," reads the cable. "'XXXXXXXXXXXXX' post of a video showing two policemen sodomizing a bus driver was used as the main evidence to convict the officers in November 2007."
The unnamed "prominent Egyptian blogger" discussed in the cable contacted the U.S. government for help in getting Google to restore two videos to his YouTube account -- videos showing a man allegedly shot by police and another of a woman being tortured.
Other videos on Abbas's blog and YouTube channel show apparent torture and abuse for which no officer apparently faced consequences. There are numerous clips of slapping, beating, kicking and humiliation. One clip shows a man hanging from a door frame covered in blood from apparent lashings, screaming in agony.
Abbas said the video is from a police station in the city of Port Said.
On Thursday, Abbas told ABC News he was worried about retribution for his role in publicizing police abuses. He said he refused to stay on the phone for more than a minute at a time.
"I'm afraid for my life," Abbas told ABC News. "I need to figure out what I'm going to do and where I'm going to go."