Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1134, 7 - 13 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Caught on film

The Interior Ministry still relies on torture and intimidation, reports Ahmed Morsy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Any hopes that the policing practices of the Interior Ministry had improved over the last two years were dashed last Friday with the airing of film footage of naked man, 48-year-old Hamada Saber, being brutally beaten by Central Security Forces (CSF) near the presidential palace.

It was an open secret that policing under Mubarak involved systemic torture, including extra-judicial murder. Indeed, it was the beating to death of a young man, Khaled Said, in broad daylight on the street in Egypt’s second city, Alexandria, that helped kick-start the protests that led to Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. But has the security apparatus learned from past mistakes? Events of the last two weeks suggest little has changed.

After footage of Saber being dragged naked across the asphalt road while being repeatedly kicked and beaten by CSF personnel was aired by Al-Hayat satellite channel the authorities moved into damage limitation mode. It was particularly embarrassing given endless briefings from security personnel and from the presidency about how the police were exercising maximum self-restraint.

The public was treated to an unusual spectacle, the Interior Ministry apologising. This was followed by promises to open an immediate inquiry.

Saber, a house painter, was initially treated in a police hospital. In several interviews conducted from his hospital bed he accused anti-Morsi demonstrators of assaulting him. “I was walking in Roxy Square [near the palace] where some protesters mistook me for a CSF officer because of my black clothes. They attacked and stripped me,” he said. “The protesters fired birdshots at me and robbed me. When I saw the CSF soldiers coming at the crowd I was terrified and I tried to run away. The soldiers chased me yelling they wanted to help me. I understand what they did because the violent protesters were near and I was giving them a hard time.”

It was only after Saber was shown the video of the assault that he retracted his story and then the prosecutor-general’s office ordered he be removed from the police hospital.

“I ask all the protesters to forgive me for falsely accusing them,” a tearful Saber said while being interviewed on Sunday. “I lied for the sake of Egypt because I did not want to add to the trouble in the country, but the fact is I was assaulted by the police.”

“I made up my mind and changed my testimony after my family threatened to shun me unless I told the truth about the police attack,” Saber told Al-Hayat private channel by telephone.

Saber stressed that he was not pressured by anyone from the Interior Ministry to lie. “I was touched by the way they treated me at the police hospital. Doctors and nurses were very kind. The Interior Minister visited me. Senior officers came and kissed my head in apology for any wrongdoing,” Saber said.

In an interview with Dream TV on Monday he pleaded with TV channels not to rebroadcast the footage of the attack. “I thank all the officers who sympathised with me and treated me decently but I will not feel I have regained my dignity until those who attacked me are punished.”

Many political figures have condemned the violent assault against Saber. The president, the cabinet and the interior minister are all culpable for failing to address the culture of violence and criminal intimidation that pervades the security apparatus.

“Stripping naked and dragging a citizen through the streets is symptomatic of the excessive violence and oppressive tactics still used by security,” tweeted the head of the Free Egypt Party Amr Hamzawy. “It is a crime for which both the president and his interior minister bear responsibility.”

On Saturday the National Salvation Front (NSF) issued a statement condemning police brutality and rejecting repeated accusations made by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership that the NSF was to be blamed for the escalating violence.

“The Egyptian people and the whole world witnessed the violence around the presidential palace [on Friday]. It coincided with successive statements by the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders accusing the Egyptian people, the peaceful revolutionary forces, and the NSF of inciting violence,” read the statement.

Al-Sayed Al-Badawi, chairman of the Wafd Party which is a member of the National Salvation Front, described the attack in a press statement as a “waste of human dignity”. Al-Badawi went on to demand the dismissal of the Kandil cabinet.

On Saturday Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim held a press conference in which he said he was willing to resign if that was what the public wanted, though he gave no indication of how public opinion over his fate would be gauged. He also said that he had opened an inquiry into the incident.

The Muslim Brotherhood and some other Islamist groups tied themselves in knots as they paid lip service to public outrage while defending the Interior Ministry.

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref praised the minister’s “apology” for the incident as “wise”. Saad Al-Katatni, the head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) expressed his approval of Ibrahim’s fast call for investigations, and on his Facebook page said that while the violation of human rights was unacceptable, so too was the behaviour of protesters outside the presidential palace.

“We ask all politicians not to give a political cover for violence or to justify its use,” wrote Al-Katatni, pursuing the Brotherhood line that it is opposition that caused all the problems in the first place.

The Building and Reform Party, the political wing of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, was more explicit. Its media consultant Khaled Al-Sherif condemned the police attack as “a vicious violation of human rights” only to add that the demonstrators in front of the presidential palace had perpetrated “a larger crime” which must be punished.

“The Interior Ministry has formally apologised and acknowledged a violation occurred. It is the first time in the history of the ministry that it has apologised and recognised a wrongdoing,” the head of the Ministry of Interior’s media office Hani Abdel-Latif told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The president’s office issued its own statement about the incident. “The presidency was pained by the shocking footage of policemen dragging a protester in a way which violates his dignity and human rights,” said the statement. It continued that the president was committed to “enforcing constitutional articles that prohibit torture, intimidation or harming individuals physically or psychologically”, before adding that “it is unacceptable to capitalise on individual acts denounced by everybody to justify violence and criminal acts of attacking institutions.”

But the problem, say activists, is that these are not isolated, individual acts but a continuation of the wholesale abuse that characterised Mubarak-era policing.

On Monday a double funeral at Omar Makram Mosque in Tahrir Square underlined the point. Mohamed Al-Guindi and Amr Saad were both members of the Popular Current. A mass funeral procession carried their bodies from Zinhom morgue near Sayeda Zeinab to Tahrir Square. Among the mourners were former presidential candidate and Popular Current leader Hamdeen Sabahi, political activist Mamdouh Hamza and former presidential candidate Khaled Ali.

Saad, 19, died after being shot with birdshot pellets outside the presidential palace on Friday. Al-Guindi, 28, a member of the Popular Current and founding member of Al-Dostour Party, disappeared from Tahrir Square on 28 January. He eventually turned up in Al-Helal public hospital. Hospital officials claimed he had been admitted following a car accident. But the hospital’s version of events, a human rights lawyer told the Weekly, is a complete fabrication. He accused the hospital of changing Al-Guindi’s admission date to cover up his kidnapping, and of ignoring the clear marks of torture on his body.

“Eyewitnesses have confirmed Al-Guindi was tortured inside Al-Gabal Al-Ahmar, the CSF camp in Nasr City. He was then transferred to Al-Salam camp,” says human rights activist and lawyer Eslam Khalifa. It was in Al-Gabal Al-Ahmar camp, says Khalifa, that Al-Guindi received the injuries the authorities now want to pass off as the result of a traffic accident. 

Al-Guindi’s medical report showed evidence of a wire around his neck, electric burns to his tongue, burns from a hot iron on his back and abdomen and evidence of him being hit with sharp implements on his face, head, abdomen, back and legs.

On Monday the president’s office released a statement saying it had instructed the prosecutor-general to investigate Al-Guindi’s death.

Al-Guindi’s is a relatively high profile case. What is increasingly worrying human rights activists is the forced disappearance of growing numbers of juvenile protesters from poor backgrounds.

“The numbers are huge,” says human rights activist Mohamed Bekeir. “They are detained in police stations and central security premises for days or else they are turning up in hospitals.” Because there is no notification, it is impossible to know the precise numbers involved, or the fate of these child protesters.

Of the 255 people whose detention in the vicinity of Tahrir Square since 25 January has been recorded by the No To Military Trials for Civilians campaign and the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre a large proportion are juveniles who have been illegally held in adult detention facilities.

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