Amnesty accuses Egypt of police and army abuses

Wed, Oct 3, 2012, 01:00

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL is calling on Egypt’s president Muhammad Morsi to tackle the country’s “bloody legacy of human rights abuses by the police and army” in two reports released yesterday.

Brutality Unpunished and Unchecked: Egypt’s Military Kills and Tortures Protesters with Impunity and Egypt’s Police and the Case for Reform give disturbing pictures of the actions of the Egyptian army and police during the 16 months of military rule following the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

In its first report, Amnesty says the ruling military council “broke its promises to protect human rights and betrayed the people” who took part in the uprising by failing to “protect the right to peaceful protest and help the country transition to civilian rule. Instead, it unleashed violent repression against peaceful protesters and took steps to retain as much power as possible” while remaining “beyond the reach of the law”.

In this 59-page document, Amnesty examines three events where the army was guilty of beatings, killings and torture of protesters, most of whom were also subjected to trial by military courts.

The incident involving the army that most shocked Egyptians took place in October 2011 in front of the state television building. In an effort to disperse Coptic Christians protesting against discrimination and violence, the army killed 27 people. Television viewers were horrified to see soldiers firing at protesters and armoured vehicles driven into the throng.

Until that event, Egyptians believed the army – which had remained on the sidelines during the 18-day uprising in January-February – was on the side of the populace demanding regime change and reforms. In its second report, Amnesty points out that one of the triggers of the uprising was the brutal murder in June 2010 of a young businessman, Khalid Said, outside a cafe in Alexandria.

Activists protesting against the abuses of the Mubarak regime launched the website “We are all Khaled Said,” with the aim of convincing Egyptians that they, too, could be victims of police violence.

For decades, Egypt’s police and security forces, operating under perpetual emergency laws, “committed serious human rights violations and did so with almost total impunity,” Amnesty says.

Police killed 840 people during the uprising. Few officers have been punished.

The organisation recounts the conduct during three key events where Egypt’s three main police forces – the riot police, the national police force and the allegedly abolished state security investigation service – committed harsh abuses against protesters.

The most blatant post-uprising police violence against protesters took place over several days on Muhammad Mahmoud Street near the interior ministry in November 2011 after the police attacked an encampment in Tahrir Square of families of those killed during the uprising.

Officers used live ammunition, shotguns and heavy doses of tear gas that left 51 protesters dead. Tahrir Square, the cradle of the uprising, was wreathed in fresh supplies of a tear gas suplied by a US firm that seeped into the nearby US embassy.

More than 100 people have been killed and thousands injured by police and armed forces “when using unnecessary or excessive force; and torture and other ill-treatment of detainees continues to be reported”, Amnesty says, and unless “significant and trans- parent steps ... to reform the police and security apparatus ... these patterns of egregious human rights violations will continue.”