The State of Excessive Police Violence Against Civilians

Egypt Police.jpg

With state security reform a key demand of the January 25 Revolution, a vicious crackdown on protests, and the alleged targeting of activists, indicates that the uprising never reached the hallways of the Ministry of Interior.  A video of a man, stripped and beaten, and later intimidated into claiming that protesters had attacked him, has come to embody all that has yet to change in Egypt’s police force.  

While issues of police crimes and the role of the ministry of interior are at the forefront of discourse on human rights in Egypt, reform of public prosecution or the justice system is rarely part of the dialogue. In its latest report, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) uncovers the premeditated protection of police officers committing crimes against civilians by the justice system.

Of the35 cases against police officers accused of killing demonstrators in the past two years, the courts have reached verdicts in 29. Police officers in 25 of the 29 cases have been acquitted of the crime of allegedly killing demonstrators despite hard evidence and forensic evidence provided that would prove otherwise. Of the 135 police officers who stood trial, 115 have been acquitted, five sentenced in absentia, and only two are serving sentences.

“We are back to the very same rates of police crimes experienced under the Mubarak regime, and in some cases these rates are even higher,”  Hossam Bahgat, head of EIPR, said at a press conference launching the report.

Magda Abou El Nasr, Head of the Criminal Justice Unit at EIPR, added, “Just a week ago, a young man by the name of Sameh Ahmed Farrag walked into al-Waraa police station, and left a corpse,” she says. During that same week, another young man, Ahmed Morsi was brutally murdered at al-Khalifa police station after failing to present proper personal identification. Two days later, police were using excessive force with demonstrators in Alexandria and a young man was shot dead by police as he stood in his home balcony watching demonstrations.

For the past two years, Abou El Nasr and her team have been monitoring and documenting these police violations, speaking with witnesses, assessing scenes of incidents, and gathering video and forensic evidence.

Through their investigations, they have observed many cases in which police officers behave in a tribal manner, exacting revenge on entire communities. Police act like a “street gang, [and] enforce vigilante justice,” states the EIPR report. One of the more serious incidents of this kind occurred in a village in Beni Suef in July last year. After some village youth allegedly conned a police officer at a shop, the officer returned with soldiers and officers and attacked the village with firearms, killing four civilians and injuring many. Similar incidents have been reported elsewhere in Egypt in retaliation for the deaths of police officers.

“Police violence, and police violations are becoming very systematic,” says Abou El Nasr, “there is a lack of any fundamental change within the culture of the Ministry of Interior.”

Police violations continue in a systematic manner as a result of the impunity of police officers. In all the cases that Abou El Nasr and her team have followed over the past two years, cases of police torture, arbitrary violence, and the killing of demonstrators, none of the officers involved, with one exception, have been referred to public prosecution. EIPR monitored the performance of the public prosecution in cases where the defendant was a security officer, and found that the public prosecution does not bring official charges against these officers despite the presence of incriminating evidence.

While a provision in the penal code says that officers being investigated for committing a police crime have to be suspended or detained, (depending on the severity of the alleged crime committed); this provision is not enforced. Officers remain in their positions, and often intimidate or threaten witnesses and families of victims, causing them to alter their original statements. EIPR lawyer Reda Marei says, “The public prosecution allows police officers to put pressure on witnesses, leading them to change their testimonies.”

Under Morsi’s rule, the situation remains unchanged. On Friday February 1st, anti-government demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square and at the presidential palace. Cameras covering the presidential palace demonstrations captured an attack by security forces on a naked man, the incident transmitted live on several satellite and local channels.  Hamada Saber, who was brutally beaten by police and dragged naked on the road, initially exonerated the police in his testimony, claiming they were protecting him from protesters. In his revised testimony, Saber said he was shot in the leg as he and demonstrators were running to escape police fire. Once he fell to the ground, the police surrounded him, and the beating ensued.

When first commenting on the incident, the presidency and Prime Minister described it as an “isolated act,” further angering opposition.  The National Salvation Front (NSF), the largest bloc of Egypt’s opposition is calling for the resignation of Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim.

Tactics used by police forces outside of Cairo don’t differ. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ESCR) released a fact-finding report detailing excessive force used by Central Security Forces against civilians in the canal cities of Port Said and Suez.

Following the sentencing of 21 Port Said residents to death in the case of the February 2012 massacre, families of the convicted surrounded the prison in protest. Security forces fired live ammunition at random killing 31, and injuring 322. ECSR says that the security forces were aiming for “the chest, head, and neck.”

EIPR’s recommendations for state security reform include: legislative amendments to guarantee the independence of the public prosecution; an independent commission to investigate all cases of death and injury caused by police personnel; allowing civil society organizations to visit detention facilities; establishing an independent commission to monitor detention facilities; amending the laws regulating the use of force and firearms; amending “the definition of torture to comply with International Convention Against Torture, ratified by Egypt.” EIPR has also called for President Morsi’s fact-finding commission to publish its findings, and for the formation of a follow-up committee “to investigate the findings of the commission and implement its recommendations.”

Nahla Samaha is a writer/editor with a BA (Canada) and an MA (UK) in Critical Cultural and Communication Theory.

Photo: AP 

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