Can You Defend Yourself in an Encounter with a Cop?
Mona Daoud give us the perfect guide to knowing your rights should you find yourself in a tricky situation, using expert information from lawyers and ex-cops. Don't say we never help you...
First off, let’s get one thing straight, Egyptian cops are out to get you.
This article started out as an attempt to dig up laws that protect you as a citizen, since no one seems to be clear on what their rights are. You’d think that you at least have basic human rights. Think again.
As it turns out, we were indeed able to dig up a bunch of rights in the law and constitution that should be able to protect you in the common situations where cops tend to harass Egyptians. However, there’s a catch. The law enforcers from the lowest ranking officer to the judge do not tend to respect the law. Moreover, many of them are confused between what is socially unacceptable and what the law actually states. In their view, they are the law. They have been steadily programmed throughout their education that they are the ruling masters. The minister of justice himself, Ahmed El Zend, was quoted to say “we (the judges), on the soil of this nation, are masters while others (the people) are slaves.”
This should give you a picture of what we’re dealing with.They’re very good at enforcement, but they don’t know much about the law.
So what do you do?
We’ve rounded up a few situations we think might be relevant to many readers, listing your ‘theoretical’ rights, what will practically happen, and what you can do to save yourself from their salivating jaws.
First off get your hands on a copy of 3ashan Matenderebsh 3ala Afak by former cop Omar Afifi. Roughly this translates to ‘So that you don’t get hit on the back of your head,’ and is a list of questions and answers about the law, your rights, and what you can do if your rights are being violated. Try to ignore the condescending tone of the book in favour of the priceless information it gives you on how to protect yourself. The book may be hard to find, but you can download it here.
Now in theory, you have the following basic rights: (check the book for more)
- The right to remain silent. (Use it! Even if they beat you up.)
- The right to keep your phone and call your family and lawyer.
- A cop must prove he is a cop before he approaches you, and if he doesn’t you have the right to demand identification. (The book shows you what that would look like.)
- You are not to be arrested unless you committed a crime red handed or the cops have a permit from the public prosecutor. (Evaluate the permit carefully and look for official stamps and signatures.)
- No one can enter your house without a permit from the public prosecutor, and if they do have a permit, they have no right to open closed envelopes, or look at your laptop or phone. Only the public prosecutor can do that.
- No one has the right to search you, or your car, or look at your phone without a permit. (Unless you’re in a military zone, like the Suez Tunnel, where you have absolutely no rights whatsoever, and the best thing you can do is politely comply, but not in a cowardly manner which provokes their predator instincts.)
- If you get caught without an ID (National ID, Passport, driver’s license), you pay a fine and no one can take you to the station but they will try.
Now this is all in theory. Practically you’re under their mercy. If you’re reading this article you may be wondering what could possibly get you in trouble if you’re not a political activist. Here are some common issues:
- You’re gay.
- You’re sexually active.
- You’re an unmarried couple living together and the neighbours hate you.
- You smoke hash or do other recreational drugs.
- You’re an angel according to society and you even voted for Sisi, but you had a car accident that drew the attention of the cops, and you happen to be young. (Youth are the government’s nightmare, because they know deep down inside that eventually they will be overthrown by youth.)
- You throw frequent parties and the neighbours hate you.
- You pass through a lagna or kamin and someone there simply got provoked by the colour of your shirt, or has an undiagnosed mental illness and is taking it out on you.
In addition to knowing basic rights as mentioned above, you should know the following:
- There is no law against homosexuality.
- There is no law against consensual sex between those over 18 as long as it is not in a public place.
- There is no law against unmarried couples living together, or men sharing flats with women.
- Only North East Sinai is under the Emergency Law these days.
If you’re cohabitating with a partner, whether of the opposite sex or same sex, you need to befriend your neighbours and your doorman and everyone around you. Do not make enemies. You need to be discreet and avoid frequent loud parties that others can use as an excuse to call the cops who will come with the sole intention of finding as many scandalous things to convict you with as they can. They will twist facts, and provoke you. Don’t fall for it. Stand your grounds confidently, be calm, and do not raise your voice or touch any of the cops in any way. Don’t even resist arrest should they be so rabid as to attack you without cause.
If your car is forcibly searched and the cop find hash, deny it is yours till the very end. Never ever admit it is yours, especially if they promise to let you go if you admit. They won’t. As they say in American movies “everything you say, can and will be held against you.”
If you’re gay, avoid Tinder, and Grindr, and any dating app or site. If you must use it to meet people, don’t trust anyone. Be very selective. And if you do decide to meet a person, tell a trusted friend where you’re going. Meet somewhere public, that YOU chose and are comfortable in. Put a password on your phone and don’t have any incriminating photos on it. If you happen to be arrested, use your rights, remain silent and tell them you will not speak till your lawyer is present. Be self confident. Make them worry that you might be backed up by someone higher ranking than themselves. Most importantly, do not believe anyone who gently asks you to say the truth or give information or names of gay friends in return for your freedom. They will not comply. Never ever trust a cop.
If you get beaten up or tortured, look on the possible bright side; they have no evidence or anything on you, and are desperate for you to confess to anything yourself.
What you can do is be very alert, know all the names you could know from fellow prisoners to those who assault you to possible witnesses. It is hard to be alert when being arrested, but try your best because you can use this information later once you are taken to the public prosecutor (who tends to be the best of the worst). The prosecutor will try to ask you questions on your case, but you can say you will not speak until he writes down what you’ve been through (which in theory should get the case dropped or invalid in court). Make sure you have a good lawyer present, and that the prosecutor is writing what you’re saying. Don’t sign the document unless you read it.
If you have photos on your phone, they will write up false reports with false charges (since homosexuality is not a crime) and use the photos to support the claim.
The bigger disaster is that most judges are homophobic and will let facts slip and twist whichever way the prosecutor desires.
So if arrested, deny until your last breath that you’re gay. Refuse to be examined by forensics. You can even tell the examining doctor that he is violating his oath and the ethical codes of medicine. However, if you feel you might be tortured as a result of refusal, just take the exam, which is scientifically unsound and follows guidelines in a book on forensic medicine from the 1800s.
It’s a lot to take in isn’t it?
Bear in mind that all this advice which we collected from lawyers and former cops gives you a fighting chance of getting released or declared innocent, but it does not guarantee it.
Insure yourself by knowing two or three lawyers by name and memorise their phone numbers, and most effectively try to establish any connection with a high ranking cop or member of the military.
Meanwhile, keep your self composure, and walk around with an air of “I know something you don’t know.” Make them doubt themselves and think twice before touching a hair on your body. Most advice for encounters with wild animals apply here; make yourself look big and intimidating, don’t run, and should all attempts at avoidance fail and you find their jaws clamped around you, fight. Put up one hell of a fight using your knowledge, contacts, acting skills, everything you can pull out of your hat, for a last ditch attempt at making them think you’re not worth the effort, and letting you go.
DISCLAIMER: Some cops are good people.