An Egyptian activist who died Monday was beaten unconscious during interrogation at a security camp where he was detained for three days, two security sources told Reuters Tuesday.
The security sources spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to speak to journalists.
Human rights campaigners say the same brutal tactics that helped ignite the uprising against autocrat Hosni Mubarak two years ago are back under the auspices of freely elected President Mohamed Morsy.
Mohamed al-Gendy was rounded up along with other youth protesters on 25 January, the second anniversary of the start of the anti-Mubarak revolt, and taken to Gabal Ahmar, a state security camp on the outskirts of Cairo.
Gendy remained there for three days and nights where he was "interrogated" and beaten, the sources said, adding that the officers were more aggressive when he talked back to them.
The Interior Ministry denied accusations that Gendy was tortured, saying in its report that he was found injured on the street after he was hit by a car on 28 January, and taken to Cairo's Hilal hospital, where he died some days later.
Dozens of people were killed in the latest street violence to hit Egypt, which has been in political turmoil since Mubarak's fall with the latest demonstrations protesting Morsy’s perceived drift toward authoritarianism.
To many Egyptians, Gendy's case is eerily similar to that of Khaled Saeed, who youth activists have said was tortured to death by police in 2011. Saeed's case helped ignite the uprising.
"We are seeing a return of police brutality that was the hallmark of Mubarak's rule," said Hafez Abu Seada from the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
Morsy’s office said Monday it was in touch with the prosecutor general to look into the cause of Gendy's death.
"The presidency stresses that there shall be no return to violating the rights of citizens, their public and private freedoms in light of the rule of law and the blessed 25 January revolution," it said in a statement.
Abu Seada said there was an apparent campaign against youth activists agitating against Morsy’s rule, what they see as the Muslim Brotherhood's grip on power and a police force not held accountable for the deaths of some 850 anti-Mubarak protesters.
Two other activists, Gaber Salah (known as Jika) and Mohamed Hussein (known as Mohamed Christie), killed in violent protests over the past month were known to be active on Facebook pages critical of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Gendy belonged to the leftist Popular Current, which said he had also been electrocuted in custody and was left with a wire around his neck.
Doctors at Hilal hospital said Gendy was in a coma when he died, having suffered brain and lung injuries as well as multiple fractures. They made no mention of traces of electrocution or strangulation.
"He was unconscious when he was delivered to Hilal hospital," a medic there told Reuters.
Since Morsy took office seven months ago, little has been done to overhaul the national police or rehabilitate its leadership, which had been accused by international and local human rights groups of perpetrating routine human rights abuses.
Activists and Egyptian officials say Morsy has taken few steps to hold officers accountable, fearing a backlash from the powerful police generals who run the Interior Ministry.
Abu Seida said Morsy and Prime Minister Hesham Qandil had given the police a license to use force by ordering them to deal firmly with any protests that turned violent.
"President Morsy has been trying to motivate the police force and encourage them to return to policing the streets to establish order. But clearly these officers are not equipped with the right tactics to deal with protesters," he said.
A state of emergency remains in force in three cities near the Suez Canal that have also witnessed protests against Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that propelled him to power in a June election.