CAIRO -- Egypt's army has detained dozens of Egyptians involved in massive protests against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak and abused some of them in custody, a U.S. rights groups and Egyptian activists said on Thursday.
The army was ordered to the streets on Jan. 28 to restore order. It was welcomed by protesters as a neutral force. The army said it would protect protesters from Mubarak supporters who have attacked them but also asked them to return home.
"Since Jan. 31, Human Rights Watch has documented the arbitrary arrest by military police of at least 20 protesters who were leaving or heading to Tahrir Square," New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement.
"Most of these arrests occurred in the vicinity of the square or in other parts of Cairo from where protesters were taking supplies to the square," it said.
HRW said it had documented at least five cases of torture. One released detainee told HRW he saw military officers giving electric shocks to at least 12 detainees on Feb. 1.
The army denied abusing protesters.
"The armed forces denies any abuse of protesters. The armed forces sticks to the principle of protecting peaceful protesters and it has never, nor will it ever, fire at protesters," an armed forces source said, responding to the charges.
HRW said at least 119 people have been detained since the army deployed on the streets. The army moved after Egypt's police lost control and were withdrawn from Egyptian cities.
Those detained included protesters, rights activists and journalists covering the protests.
It was not clear how many people were still detained.
Mubarak has announced a list of concessions including a promise of political reforms, but protesters have continued occupying Tahrir Square in central Cairo and staging daily demonstrations around the country to demand that he resign.
The government says Mubarak, who has enjoyed broad Western support, will not resign and has called on the protesters to leave the streets for the sake of the nation and economy.
APPARATUS OF ABUSE
"It is a major step backwards with regard to respect for human rights for the army to be part of the apparatus of abuse," said Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
"They are not neutral and they are new to this," he said, adding that the number of people detained could be higher since families may not have been informed.
Khaled Ali, head of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, said he was inside the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre when it was stormed by military police last week.
"The military police invaded the office and they started saying that it was a spy cell. They were telling people on the street that we were spies and our accusation was we were supporting the protesters in Tahrir with blankets," he said.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said on Wednesday the government was obstructing international press coverage by withholding press credentials and had invaded the home of one foreign journalist.
It said blogger Karim Amer, who served a four-year term before for insulting Mubarak, has been detained since Feb. 6.
The government has said foreign "infiltrators" are instigating the continuing Tahrir protests, blaming Islamists.
The Muslim Brotherhood, seen as Egypt's largest organised opposition, also accused the army of detaining activists involved in protests, usually those ferrying food and medicines.
"The army found them carrying things then led them to army camps. They are around 70 to 100 people," Mohammed Mursi said on Wednesday. "They started torturing them very badly."
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