Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1275, (17- 30 December 2015)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1275, (17- 30 December 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The Police Academy: Trials and tribulations

As police practices once again come under scrutiny, Ahmed Morsy reviews the changing face of the Ministry of Interior’s training centre for officers

Al-Ahram Weekly

“The nation remembers with pride the heroism of policemen who confronted occupation forces in Ismailia in 1952. We also remember their sacrifices, both in time of war and peace, and in the fight against terrorism and extremism,” then-President Hosni Mubarak said during a speech at the Police Academy on 23 January 2011, two days before National Police Day.

The celebrations commemorate 25 January 1952, when Egyptian security forces in Ismailia clashed with British forces and 50 police officers were killed. In 2009, 25 January was proclaimed a national holiday.

“Together with all Egyptians I salute the police and the role they played, the sacrifices they made,” said Mubarak. The speech was delivered just two days before the outbreak of the 25 January Revolution that led to Mubarak’s removal as president.

One of the main causes of the uprising was public anger over the torture, corruption and oppression that had come to characterise the police force. The abuses reached an apogee under Mubarak’s long-time interior minister, Habib Al-Adli.

It was no coincidence that the uprising that toppled Mubarak began on National Police Day. For decades, the security apparatus had acted as the iron fist of the regime. One of the symbols of the January uprising was Khaled Said, a young man from Alexandria.

He was beaten to death by two policemen in broad daylight in the street. Even though the brutal murder was witnessed by passers-by, the regime tried to deny the way that Said had died.

Amnesty International says at least 840 people were killed and more than 6,000 wounded during the three-week uprising that led to Mubarak’s removal. A radical overhaul of the Interior Ministry was a key demand of the 2011 Revolution. In the intervening years, however, little has been done to reform the police.

Ironically, the trial of Mubarak, Al-Adli and six of the interior minister’s most senior aides on charges of ordering the killing of protestors was eventually held at the Police Academy. The complex was officially opened by Al-Adli in 2000 and named after his boss, Mubarak.

“The trial of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak has been moved to Police Academy in Cairo for security reasons,” then Justice Minister Mohamed Abdel-Aziz Al-Guindi announced in July 2011. The trial had originally been scheduled to be held at the Cairo International Convention Centre.

Lecture Hall Number 1 of the academy was converted into a courtroom. It was also the venue for the trial of Mubarak and his sons, Gamal and Alaa, on charges of misappropriating more than LE125 million of public funds between 2002 and 2011.

Mubarak’s first trial opened on 3 August 2011. The former president was transported from hospital in Sharm El-Sheikh, where he had been held under house arrest, to appear in court.

The Ministry of Interior assigned 1,100 policemen to secure the Police Academy during the first session, supplementing the military forces deployed to protect the building and secure the roads surrounding it.

Tens of Mubarak’s supporters protested close to the building during the court sessions. They were outnumbered by the families and friends of the victims, and there were occasional clashes between the opposing groups.

Mubarak was sentenced to life in 2012. The Court of Cassation later accepted Mubarak’s appeal and a re-trial was ordered in 2013. By November 2014 the charges against Mubarak had been dismissed.

According to the court which heard the retrial, there was insufficient evidence to uphold murder charges against the former president. All of the police officers charged with killing protesters in different trials were also acquitted.

In March 2015, prosecutors at the Court of Cassation requested that the case against Mubarak for murder be reopened. In November the court adjourned the retrial to 21 January 2016 and scheduled the session to be held at the Supreme Court. The upcoming court decision is final.

A different hall in the Police Academy was the venue for the trial of former president Mohamed Morsi and leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood following Morsi’s ouster on 3 July 2013. This time the improvised courtroom was equipped with a glass cage to prevent the defendants addressing the court.

In May 2015, Morsi and five co-defendants received death sentences after they were found guilty of conspiring to storm prisons, attack police facilities and kill security personnel during the 18-day uprising in 2011.

Morsi and the other Muslim Brotherhood leaders had been charged with collaborating with Hamas, Hizbullah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to destabilise Egypt.

Among the defendants who received death sentences were Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, former parliamentary speaker Saad Al-Katatni and Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) Deputy Chairman Essam Al-Erian.

In June a court upheld life sentences passed against Morsi and 16 others in a separate case in which they were accused of espionage. Death sentences were also upheld against Brotherhood leaders Mohamed Al-Beltagi, Khairat Al-Shater and Ahmed Abdel-Ati and 13 others tried in absentia. Before the ruling, Morsi was already serving a 20-year term on charges of ordering the killing of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012.

These rulings, too, were issued by a makeshift court at the Police Academy, which also witnessed the trials of various activists who were at the forefront of protesters in the 2011 uprising.

In February 2015, activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah was sentenced to five years in prison and fined LE100,000 after a court ruled that he had assaulted police officers and organised an illegal protest. Ahmed Abdel Rahman received the same sentence as Abdel-Fattah. Eighteen co-defendants were sentenced to between three and five years.

In the same month, Ahmed Douma and 229 co-defendants received life sentences and were fined a total of LE17 million in what came to be known as “the cabinet clashes case.” Thirty-nine minors received sentences of ten years in the same case.

The Police Academy has also witnessed the trial of extremists from the Sinai-based terror group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis. In September death sentences against Adel Habara and five others were upheld. The defendants, three of whom were tried in absentia, had been found guilty of killing 25 police conscripts in an ambush of a police convoy on the Al-Arish to Rafah road in August 2013.

As the fifth anniversary of the uprising against Mubarak approaches, public disquiet over police tactics is again growing. The Al-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture says 13 detainees died in custody and 40 citizens were forcibly disappeared in the month of November. During the same period it recorded 42 cases of torture in prisons.

During a visit to the Police Academy on 3 December, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi made a passing reference to the reported violations, and called for them to stop.

In his speech to students and officers, Al-Sisi also hailed the role played by the police in maintaining security and fighting terrorism, and its role in protecting the recent parliamentary elections.

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