Cairo — The Egyptian government's plan to shut down a center that aids the survivors of torture and abuse, including sexual violence, will not stop its activists from documenting cases of torture committed by security forces, the center's founders said Sunday.
Dr. Aida Seif el-Dawla, a psychiatrist and co-founder of the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, told a news conference on Sunday that authorities have told them the center will be officially closed on Monday.
Suzan Fayyad, a psychiatrist at El Nadeem, said officials had initially tried to close the center last Wednesday, but agreed to delay enforcing the order until Monday morning to give the center time to contest it.
Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized the threatened closure, saying it is part of a sweeping crackdown on human rights activists.
"The Egyptian authorities are smothering the country's leading human rights defenders one by one," Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director, said last Wednesday. "Closing the Nadeem Center would be a devastating blow to Egypt's human rights movement as well as victims of abuse."
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Fayyad said the center's workers were told the closure order came "from the highest level."
In 2003, Human Rights Watch awarded Seif el-Dawla its highest honor for her work to combat torture and promote women's rights and freedom of association in Egypt.
"The only way for there to be no torture reports is for the state to stop torturing people," said Seif el-Dawla, who was unable to control her tears in emotional remarks at the news conference.
Rights groups have accused Egyptian police of regularly torturing detainees, and in the past year, of detaining suspected activists or Islamists without ever reporting their arrests.
In December, more than a dozen Egyptian rights group issued a statement saying police appear to have "free rein to abuse citizens using ... torture, forced disappearances."
The government and Interior Ministry deny that torture is systematic, saying there have only been isolated cases.