CAIRO — Egypt's crackdown on Islamists has jailed 16,000 people over the past eight months in the country's biggest roundup in nearly two decades, the Associated Press reported Sunday, citing unnamed security officials.
At the same time, rights activists say reports of abuses in prisons are mounting, with prisoners describing systematic beatings and miserable conditions for dozens packed into tiny cells.
The Egyptian government has not released official numbers for those arrested in the sweeps since the military ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last July. But four senior officials gave the Associated Press a count of 16,000, including about 3,000 top- or mid-level members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.
The count includes hundreds of women and minors, though the officials could not give exact figures. The officials gave the numbers on condition of anonymity because the government has not released them.
The flood of arrests has swamped prisons and the legal system. Many are held for months in police station lockups meant as temporary holding areas or in impromptu jails set up in police training camps because prisons are overcrowded. Inmates are kept for months with no charges.
Rights activists say torture — by Egypt's legal definition — is not standard practice, though they have received reports of electric shocks being used to punish detainees. More widely spread, they said, are beatings, sleep deprivation, verbal abuse, threats of rape and denying inmates basic items like bedding, blankets, newspapers and exercise.
The arrests are the most since the 1990s, when Hosni Mubarak's security forces jailed at least 20,000 people, mostly Islamists, while battling a bloody militant insurgency.