Friday, June 25, 2010

Several thousand Egyptians protest police abuse

By SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press Writer June 25, 2010

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt – Several thousand Egyptians, joined by top opposition
leader Mohamed ElBaradei, protested on Friday what they call authorities'
systematic use of torture in the largest demonstration yet sparked by the
alleged beating death of a young man by police this month.

The death of Khaled Said has become a rallying point for pro-reform
activists and rights workers who say police abuse is rampant and made
possible by a three-decade-old emergency law.

"It's a clear-cut message to the regime that the Egyptian people are sick
and tired of practices that are inhumane," said ElBaradei to reporters
after the protest.

"If they don't get the message then there is a problem with the regime,
the writing is on the wall," he added, describing Said's death as a
"heinous crime."

Witnesses say police officers dragged 28-year-old Said, a businessman, out
of an Alexandria internet cafe and beat him in the entrance of a nearby
building while the neighborhood looked on.

The government maintains that Said died from suffocation after swallowing
a packet of drugs — a claim met with derision by many after photos of
Said's corpse were widely circulated, showing his body covered with
bruises, his teeth broken and jaw smashed.

ElBaradei, a Nobel peace laureate and former chief of the U.N.'s atomic
watchdog agency has become a leading voice for reform in his homeland and
he joined the approximately 3,000 protesters in the Mediterranean port
city of Alexandria following noon prayers.

He also paid his respects to Said's family at their modest family home.

It was a rare case of ElBaradei joining one of Egypt's street protests
from which he has largely remained aloof since returning to his country of
birth, concentrating instead on gathering signatures for his campaign to
change the constitution, and meeting with other groups around the country.

Demonstrators chanted once-taboo slogans against Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak and Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, who heads the police.

"Down, down, Hosni Mubarak," they chanted, calling el-Adly the "minister
of torture."

Protesters pushed and shoved with black-garbed riot police who formed a
tight cordon around the mosque, but the demonstration ended after several
hours without significant violence in contrast to previous gatherings that
were violently dispersed.

Other pro-reform politicians showed up at the protest, including former
presidential candidate Ayman Nour, in a show of solidarity over Said's

At sunset, a second, silent, protest was held on the port city's sea front
promenade, though its impact was blunted by a raucous and colorful parade
organized by the local government-funded youth center celebrating
Alexandria's nomination as this year's capital of Arab tourism.

Rights groups have long said that police regularly abuse and torture
people in detention and are rarely held accountable, a claim denied by the
government. Security forces have wide powers of arbitrary arrest under the
emergency law in place since Mubarak came to power, which the government
says is necessary to fight terrorism. Activists maintain it is a
foundation for his autocratic regime.

The government has been faced with scattered protests in the past calling
for economic or political reform, but the Said case could give a push to
the faltering democracy movement.

A number of those at the main protest had never joined previous
demonstrations or been politically active.

One woman who answered an internet call to help organize the protest, Iman
Hassan, vowed, "We will not be silent until we get our rights."

"When injustice prevails, no one matters anymore, we no longer have
anything to fear. (Said) was like any of us, it could be me or my brother
or anyone next," said Hassan, a hairdresser from Alexandria in her early

Despite rallies and a recent U.S. call for an independent investigation,
the government has stuck by its claims on Said's death. This week, a
second autopsy was released repeating the earlier findings that the
28-year-old died from suffocation. The New York-based Human Rights Watch
cast doubt on the new autopsy, urging the Egyptian government to
investigate claims he was beaten to death.

Said's lawyer, Islam al-Obeissi, said the family will continue to pursue a
criminal case, even internationally, to prove that their son was beaten to

Ahmed Mohammed, a 26-year-old friend and neighbor of Said who attended the
protests, said the government claims are fueling the protests.

"We don't believe what's being said about him, that's why we're doing
this. We will continue to do this until God shows the truth. This isn't
about politics, he was a human being," he said.

Egypt: Prosecute Police in Beating Death

Human Rights Watch June 24, 2010

Multiple Witnesses and Graphic Photos Belie Police Narrative

Witness accounts and the photographs of Khaled Said's mangled face
constitute strong evidence that plainclothes security officers beat
him in a vicious and public manner. All those involved should be
speedily interrogated, and the prosecutor should fully investigate
what caused the fractures and trauma clearly evident on his body.
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human
Rights Watch

(New York) - Egyptian authorities should speedily investigate and bring
charges against two plainclothes police officers who numerous witnesses
say beat to death 28-year-old Khaled Said in Alexandria on June 6, 2010,
Human Rights Watch said today.

Authorities should also investigate their superiors, as well as the local
prosecutor whose first investigation failed to properly gather evidence or
interview witnesses.

"Witness accounts and the photographs of Khaled Said's mangled face
constitute strong evidence that plainclothes security officers beat him in
a vicious and public manner," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North
Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "All those involved should be
speedily interrogated, and the prosecutor should fully investigate what
caused the fractures and trauma clearly evident on his body."

Photos of Said's battered and deformed face published on the internet show
a fractured skull, dislocated jaw, broken nose, and numerous other signs
of trauma. Khaled's brother, Ahmed Said, confirmed the authenticity of the
pictures to Human Rights Watch. Nine witnesses came forward to describe
the beating.

An initial investigation by the local prosecutor concluded that Said had
died of asphyxiation after swallowing a packet of drugs. The prosecutor
ordered his body buried. The public prosecutor, a more senior official,
ordered a second, higher-level investigation following public protests.
But the second forensic medical investigation also said that the cause of
death was asphyxiation. Two plainclothes security officials from Sidi
Gaber police station who witnesses say beat Khaled to death have not been
relieved of their duties and have yet to be questioned by the prosecutor.

Witnesses described to Human Rights Watch how two men who they said were
plainclothes officers apprehended Said in the Space Net internet café in
Boubaset street. Haitham Misbah, the son of the internet café owner, said
he saw the officers beating Said:

Khaled was standing with me just outside the internet café and went in to
say hello to a friend. At that point, two policemen in plainclothes, who
we later found out had been waiting at the café opposite, went straight up
to him and asked for his ID. I saw them grab his arms and hold them behind
his back, so I went over to him, but then saw that they had guns and
realized they were police. I asked them what they were doing and they
said, "Stay out of this or we'll close down your business."

Khaled was struggling. They grabbed his head and banged it against the
marble shelf. At this point we tried to get them outside, thinking that
they wanted to arrest him, but they dragged him into the entrance of the
building next door. Khaled's hair was a bit long, and I saw them grab him
by the hair and bang his head against the iron door of the building and
hit him in the face and the stomach. They kicked him so hard that he fell
on the stairs. They held him by the throat and by the hair and banged his
head against the stairs.

The last thing Khaled said was, "I am dying," but they didn't stop. I
then heard the wife of the doorman screaming. Khaled has stopped moving,
but they continued to kick him, saying, "You're pretending to be dead?"

Mohamed, the doorman of the building next to the internet café, told Human
Rights Watch:

I was standing at the top of the stairs in the entrance when they dragged
him into the building, holding his hands behind his back. They grabbed him
by the hair and banged his head against the iron door of the building and
then repeatedly against the marble steps in the entrance. At one point
Khaled was gasping "I'm going to die, I'm going to die." They responded
saying, "You're dead anyway." They kept beating him although he had
stopped moving.

At this point the two policemen phoned an officer saying, "Basha we have a
case here." There was a doctor nearby who came in and tried to resuscitate
him but couldn't. And then a pharmacist came in and checked and said he
was already dead, so we put a sheet over him. The officer arrived with the
police van after a bit, and they picked up Khaled's body and put him into
the police van. They drove off but came back around ten minutes later and
threw his body back into the entrance of the building. Then the ambulance
came. The ambulance man didn't want to take the body because he could see
he was dead, but the officer ordered him to. There was blood everywhere. I
had to clean up the blood.

In the initial investigation, the local Sidi Gaber prosecutor in
Alexandria did not visit the scene of the crime and interrogated only two
witnesses provided by the police. The witnesses claimed that Said had
swallowed a packet of drugs when he saw the policemen. The Said family's
lawyer, Mohamed Abd al-Aziz, told Human Rights Watch that the prosecutor
ordered a medical examination, which concluded that Said had died of
asphyxiation after he swallowed a packet of drugs, and ordered the body to
be buried.

When Human Rights Watch raised the case in a meeting with Interior
Ministry officials on June 12, they replied that they were still
investigating the case and could not comment. However, a ministry news
release that day stated, "The truth of the matter is that two members of
the Sidi Gaber police station investigations unit... saw Said accompanied
by one of his friends, and when the two police officers approached them,
Said swallowed a small packet. It subsequently became clear that this
packet contained drugs. Said was asphyxiated when he swallowed it, leading
to his death."

The statement also claimed that Khaled Said was a "wanted criminal," with
two convictions in absentia for theft and illegal possession of weapons,
and that he had evaded his military service. Said's uncle, Dr. Ali Kassem,
told Human Rights Watch that these allegations were false. Khaled had made
several trips out of Egypt, he said, something that would have been
impossible if he had not fulfilled his required military service or if
there were pending court sentences against him.

"Even if Khaled Said had been wanted in connection with some earlier
offense, that does not give license to police to attack and murder him in
cold blood," Stork said. "The Interior Ministry statement is grossly
irresponsible, implicitly condoning police brutality."

The brutal killing of Said led to demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria,
which security services forcibly dispersed, making numerous arrests.

On June 15, Public Prosecutor Abdelmeguid Mahmoud ordered the
investigation reopened and transferred the case to the Alexandria appeals
prosecution unit. He ordered officials to exhume the body and appointed
three doctors to conduct a new forensic investigation. The prosecutor made
public this second forensic medical report, confirming the cause of death
as asphyxiation, on June 23. However, the second medical report also said
there were a number of injuries on the body and concluded that there was
"nothing to prevent the injuries from having occurred as a result of
beating during the arrest of the victim."

On the basis of this finding alone, the prosecutor should expedite the
interrogation of the two policemen involved and the officer who supervised
the operation and should issue warrants for their arrest to carry out the
investigation, Human Rights Watch said.

The prosecutor can still refer the case to court under article 129 of the
penal code, which states that "public employees or officials, and
individuals assigned to a public service who use their position to treat
an individual cruelly by comprising honor, causing pain or hurting them,
shall be punished by imprisonment for a period of up to a year or by a
fine that shall not exceed LE 200."

"The reported forensic findings do not answer one basic question: how
Khaled Said's body acquired the shocking signs of a horrific beating,
consistent with the accounts of numerous witnesses who said they saw these
officers slam Khaled's face repeatedly against a marble steps and an iron
door," Stork said. "The public prosecutor needs to carry out a full
independent criminal investigation into the behavior of the officers."

After the appeals prosecutor visited the scene of the crime and spoke to
people in the area, additional witnesses came forward and testified before
the prosecutor that they witnessed the beating. Misbah told Human Rights
Watch that initially only he, his father, the doorman of the building next
door, and a friend of Khaled's who was standing outside were willing to

He said:

I spent days trying to convince people to go and testify, but everyone was
too scared. Especially because after the incident, officers from Sidi
Gaber police station came to our area and indirectly threatened to people
not to cause trouble. Everyone was scared that the same thing could happen
to them if they reported what had happened. People were only reassured
after the Alexandria appeals prosecutor came to the area and encouraged
people to testify and assured them that he would guarantee their

However, the public prosecutor has yet to summon for interrogation Major
Ahmad Osman of the investigations unit at Sidi Gaber police station, who
was in charge of the operation, or Lieutenant Colonel Emad Abdelzaher, in
addition to the two plainclothes policemen who the witnesses saw beating
Said. The Said family lawyer, Mohamed Abdelaziz, confirmed to Human Rights
Watch that none of these officers have been suspended and that they are
still working at the police station.

The European Court of Human Rights recently reiterated the international
legal position that in cases of ill-treatment and torture, officers under
investigation should normally be suspended during the disciplinary inquiry
and dismissed if found responsible for such acts.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by
Law Enforcement Officials state that law enforcement officials may only
use violent means if unavoidable and must "exercise restraint in such use
and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence," as well as
"minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life."

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