February 8, 2011

(Cairo) - Human Rights Watch has collected figures from doctors in eight hospitals giving a total of at least 302 killed in the unrest in Egypt since January 28, 2011. The breakdown of these figures is: 232 in Cairo, 52 in Alexandria, and 18 in Suez. These figures are based on unofficial information obtained from doctors by Human Rights Watch at two hospitals in Cairo, two in Alexandria, and one in Suez and by the International Federation for Human Rights, which visited a further three hospitals in Cairo.

In a television interview on BBC Arabic today, the Egyptian minister of health rejected Human Rights Watch's numbers as false, and said that the ministry would issue an official death toll "within days." The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on February 1 cited unconfirmed reports that an estimated 300 people may have been killed in the protests.

In some hospitals, Human Rights Watch obtained unofficial lists with names of those who had died at the protests from doctors on duty at the hospital morgue. In others, Human Rights Watch received figures of the number of persons killed during the protests from doctors who were on duty on the emergency wards. Human Rights Watch also regularly visited the makeshift hospital in Tahrir Square and obtained the number of confirmed deaths from doctors there.   

According to the doctors at the hospitals visited by Human Rights Watch, many of these deaths occurred on January 28 and 29 as a result of live gunfire and rubber bullets. A significant proportion of deaths were caused by teargas canisters fired at close range, the doctors said. Access to hospitals was very difficult and only possible after personal assurances that Human Rights Watch would protect the names of the doctors who agreed to speak to us. Human Rights Watch was unable to see death certificates citing causes of death or to gather the names of all those killed. In some cases, families were also unable to obtain certificates stating the cause of death

One man told Human Rights Watch that on January 28 his brother was in Kasr Aini Street, just off Tahrir Square, when he reached down to throw a teargas canister away from the protesters. At that point he was shot in his side and fell to the ground. His friends carried him out and spent three hours trying to get him to a hospital they trusted, but soon after that he died. The brother is still trying to obtain a medical report from the hospital stating the cause of death in order to pursue further legal action.

According to some of the doctors to whom Human Rights Watch spoke, hospital officials have been under pressure to downplay the overall number of deaths. It is possible that the actual number of deaths is significantly higher than the 302 reported to Human Rights Watch, because that figure is based on visits to eight hospitals in only three cities.  This count only includes numbers directly reported by medical personnel to Human Rights Watch and to the International Federation for Human Rights in those hospitals.

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