Amnesty reports on persistant SCAF and police violence
(With Jack Shenker)
Egypt’s military generals rode roughshod over human rights and instigated violence against the Egyptian people during the post-Mubarak ‘transition period’, according to a damning pair of reports released by Amnesty International last week.
In the sixteen violent months of army rule that followed Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in February 2011, security forces killed and tortured with impunity – subjecting thousands of civilians to arbitrary arrest and unfair trials, and targeting women activists through a programme of sexual intimidation.
“Unless the soldiers responsible for killing, maiming and abusing protesters are put on trial in front of an independent, civilian court, there is no hope that the victims will see justice or that soldiers will fear punishment if they repeat such crimes,” said Hassiba Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme.
“Male and female protesters were subjected to severe beatings, given electric shocks, sexually threatened and abused by military troops. Thousands were tried or face unfair trial before military courts. Women protesters were singled out for abuse, and months later have been left with mere excuses by the SCAF, instead of independent investigations and redress.”
The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), which assumed power following the overthrow of Mubarak and promised a swift transition to civilian government, was finally relieved of its formal executive role in June this year when Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically-elected president. Morsi moved quickly to impose his authority by forcibly retiring some of the junta’s most senior generals, but in a remarkable broadside, Amnesty – which previously aided the former Muslim Brotherhood member when he was a political prisoner under the Mubarak regime back in 2006 – said that a memorandum on human rights sent by the organisation to the new president had been ignored.
“President Mohamed Morsi has a historic opportunity to tackle the bloody legacy of police and army and guarantee that no one is above the law in Egypt,” said the organisation in a statement. “Without bringing to justice security forces responsible for human rights violations, justice for the victims will remain elusive.”
The reports have been launched just days ahead of the first anniversary of Egypt’s ‘Maspero massacre’, one of the most brutal atrocities carried out by security forces under army rule. The incident, which resulted in the deaths of 27 mostly Coptic Christian protesters from live ammunition and being run over by APCs in downtown Cairo, was a turning point in popular attitudes towards the junta.
Mina Daniel was one of the demonstrators shot and killed at the Maspero protest. His sister Mary said, “We set off on a peaceful protest that turned into a war zone. Mina has been dead a year, and what he fought for hasn’t been achieved, those who killed our children are being rewarded.”
The Amnesty reports target both police and military security personnel. Amnesty’s Egypt researcher Mohamed Lotfy said, “While both [sets of forces] committed unlawful killings, sexual violence against female protesters, using live ammunition, using people in civilian clothes to attack protesters and violating international standards by not using reasonable force, the [state] media distorted the image of the victims. The truth is lost and these victims deserve justice.”
One of the most notorious attacks on protesters under SCAF came during clashes outside the cabinet building in December 2011, when a protester who became known as the ‘woman with the blue bra’ was dragged and beaten by soldiers in the street until her underwear was showing. A nearby cameraphone recorded the incident as soldiers continued to stomp on her chest.
Another woman who tried to stop the soldiers beating her that day and got beaten up herself was Azza Hilal. “I was severely beaten and stayed in a coma for a week with a fractured skull,” recalled Hilal. “How could the same things that happened under Mubarak still happen now?”
The reports highlight the total impunity enjoyed by police forces even after the toppling of Mubarak and focuses on three key events: the violence on Mohamed Mahmoud street near Tahrir Square in November 2011 where police officers aimed shotgun pellets at protesters’ eyes, the second wave of clashes in the same area in February 2011 in the wake of the Port Said football stadium disaster where 76 fans lost their lives, and police violence during clashes in front of the swanky Nile City towers on the Nile Corniche in August 2012 during which residents of a nearby poor neighbourhood were shot and tear-gassed.
The report sheds light on the ‘brutal’ and incommensurate response of police forces to protests as well as ‘longstanding patterns’ of detainee torture and the state’s ‘brazen disregard’ for the rule of law.
Riot police have routinely responded to peaceful protests with “excessive and lethal force, including disproportionate use of tear gas, beatings and arbitrary arrest.” Amnesty also criticizes the US for continuing to supply Egyptian police with tear gas and shotgun ammunition, without guarantees that it will not be used against protesters.
The litany of abuse and torture seems to have continued into Morsi’s reign, with a case of death by torture in a police station in the governorate of Daqahlia occurring as recently as September 16. The death of a civilian who was inside the station to file a report regarding an earlier incidence of police brutality led to clashes outside the station and the death of yet another man who was shot by police.