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Egypt: Security Forces Attack Opposition Demonstrators

Eyewitness Testimony of Plainclothes Police Beating Protestors

President Husni Mubarak should urgently appoint an independent commission to investigate those responsible for ordering and carrying out attacks against demonstrators protesting his decision to run for a fifth term, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said that because the police violence appeared to reflect a high-level policy decision, any investigation should include the role of Interior Minister Habib al-Adli.

“Police brutality against peaceful protestors is becoming the norm again in Egypt,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. “What we saw in Cairo on Saturday night reflected a high-level decision not just to prevent a demonstration, but also to physically punish those daring to protest President Mubarak’s candidacy.”

Police initially detained some 40 persons, including George Ishaq and Amin Eskandar, leaders of the opposition umbrella group known as Kifaya (“Enough”), and took them to the Central Security camp in Darrassa, a Cairo neighborhood, which is not a legal place of detention under the authority of the public prosecutor. The authorities released Ishaq and Eskandar and a dozen others after several hours, but held 24 others overnight and transferred them the next day to Higher State Security Prosecution headquarters in Heliopolis for investigation on charges of participating in an illegal assembly, resisting and assaulting arrest officers, and “spreading tendentious propaganda that could damage the public interest.”

On Sunday the authorities referred three of the detainees—Muhammad Nabil al-Sayyid, Usama Ahmad `Abd al-Salam and Mustafa Khalil Faragallah—for forensic examinations to determine the extent of their injuries. On Monday evening, authorities ordered the 24 released on bail while the investigation continued.

Saturday’s police attack on non-violent demonstrators involved scores of plainclothes security forces wielding short, thick truncheons. In several cases, they told demonstrators that they were police officers, and journalists witnessed uniformed security officials directing the assaults against individual demonstrators.

After President Mubarak announced on July 28 that he would run for a fifth term, organizers from Kifaya (“Enough”) and other groups called a protest demonstration for 6 p.m. on July 30 in Tahrir (Liberation) Square. By 5 p.m. that day, the authorities had saturated the square itself as well as surrounding streets with more than 1,000 uniformed security forces to prevent the demonstrators from assembling.

Some demonstrators then moved toward Talaat Harb Square and Bab al-Luq Square, several blocks away. One Western journalist told Human Rights Watch what he saw as he walked towards Talaat Harb:

    A cordon of uniformed Central Security [amn al-markazi] blocked the way, surrounding a few dozen protestors. Every now and then the cordon opened and a group of plainclothes men with truncheons dragged out a protestor, often beating the protestor as they did so. Other demonstrators and bystanders started chanting. The police chased them up al-Tahrir Street towards al-Faliki Square. There were now 100 or more demonstrators, followed by 50 or 60 plainclothes men and maybe 200 from Central Security. The Central Security [forces] would surround a small group, and those in plainclothes would grab whoever it was they had picked to arrest.

According to a subsequent Interior Ministry statement, demonstrators had provoked the security forces by throwing stones. This journalist said he had witnessed the confrontation from the outset. “I can imagine that some demonstrators may have pushed back when they were attacked,” he said, “but I saw no indication that protestors provoked the violence.”

Other journalists and eyewitnesses to the incidents also told Human Rights Watch that they neither witnessed nor heard reports of violence from the side of the protestors.

A photographer covering the incidents told Human Rights Watch that he went to a subsequent improvised rally point near the Hurriyya [Freedom] café in Bab al-Luq.

    I was setting up my [camera] equipment. It was about 6:30 p.m. and there were maybe 50 people there. All of a sudden out these plainclothes thugs came from everywhere. They all carried the same kind of short club. These guys were not hired, like those who beat up the women [demonstrators and journalists] on May 25. This was very disciplined. They knew who they were after. They went in and grabbed that person, hitting him. After they had pulled him out from the crowd, a uniformed officer would direct them where to take the victim. About 10 people were arrested like this over the course of maybe 15 minutes.

Magdi `Abd al-Hamid, a 53-year-old engineer who is also on the board of the Egyptian Association for Community Participation, told Human Rights Watch that he was among the protestors assaulted in Bab al-Luq. The plainclothes security officers chased the demonstrators there, apparently determined to prevent any assembly from occurring. They set upon people in small groups. “One of them tripped me,” he said:

    I fell on my face. Two of them then grabbed me by my feet and dragged me on my stomach along the street for about 20 meters. Others beat me with their clubs on my back and shoulders. “Demonstrations against Husni Mubarak are forbidden,” they said. Luckily other demonstrators were able to pull them off of me and I got away.

Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a Cairo-based organization, spoke on Saturday evening with some of those who had been detained and released that night. Salah Adli, an activist with the Popular Campaign for Change [al-Hamla al-Sha`biyya min agl al-Taghyir] told Bahgat:

    I was among the group that was beaten up on Talaat Harb Street. I’ve never seen anything like this. It was only because police opened gaps in their cordon to take people out that we were able to breathe. I saw women and girls being kicked and beaten with batons and clubs. In [the Central Security camp at] Darrasa they took four of us aside to meet with a senior police officer. His main message was that demonstrations were no longer allowed.

A woman activist who did not want her name used told Bahgat what she witnessed as she walked toward one of the confrontation points:

    I saw many people lifted by their arms and legs and hauled off to police trucks. Police thugs in plainclothes were on both sides hitting the suspended protestors in the head and face, everywhere really. Others were being dragged by their legs on the asphalt while being kicked in the head. They were bleeding as they were taken to the [police] trucks.

Adel Badr, a political activist, showed Bahgat bruises on his right arm, his back and above his knees. Badr explained how he had been injured:

    I reached Tahrir Square but found it closed off so we moved to the Nasserist Party headquarters [on Talaat Harb Street], about 200 of us. [The police] surrounded us and then a large group of huge men in plainclothes carrying police batons started beating us on every part of our bodies, from all directions. Some protestors were pulled outside the cordon for more beating, or dragged by their legs on the ground to the police trucks.

Muhammad Hashim, a publisher, told Bahgat:

    The police weren’t simply intimidating us or breaking up the demonstration. Officers in uniform were shouting at thugs to hit harder. We were knocked to the ground and they still didn’t stop kicking us with their shoes and coming down on us with large police batons.

`Abd al Hadi al-Mashad, a Kifaya member and schoolteacher from Dakahliyya, told Bahgat that he was also among those in front of the Hurriyya café in Bab al-Luq after being chased from Tahrir Square:

    A police officer pointed at me and asked three of the big thugs in plainclothes to get me. “Get this son of a bitch,” he said. They locked me in the entrance of a deserted apartment building for about half an hour. They were holding me by my hair and my belt, completely surrounding me. When I tried to resist they hit my head against the wall. They also hit me on the arm with a police club.

Bahgat told Human Rights Watch that he observed serious swelling on al-Mashad’s head and the bruise on his arm. According to al-Mashad, the officers then put him in a police van and took him to Abdeen police station. A senior officer instructed subordinates not to file an arrest report, saying, “Just throw him in a cell until we see what we do with him.” Al-Mashad said police held him until 11:30 p.m. and kicked him in the stomach before releasing him.

Trade union activist Kamal Abbas, director of the Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services in Helwan, was reportedly among the most seriously injured. A medical examination and X-rays at Qasr al-Aini University Hospital revealed that Abbas suffered multiple rib fractures, Bahgat said.

Journalist Shaaban `Abd al-Rahim al-Daba’ was also reportedly hospitalized with injuries sustained in the incidents.

The following detainees were released on bail on August 1 and remain liable for criminal charges by the Higher State Security Prosecution in connection with the July 30 demonstrations:

1- Ahmad Ragheb
2- Muhammad Mamduh Muhammad
3- Muhammad Nabil al-Sayyid Ahmad
4- Islam Muhsin `Abd al-Mu`ti
5- Fawzi Muhammad Ramadan
6- Ibrahim al-Sa`id Muhammad Saleh
7- Sherif Yunis
8- Hamdi Abul-Ma`ati Qenawi
9- Muhammad `Ali Muhammad
10- Hassan Muhammad Hassan al-Barbari
11- Usama Ahmad `Abd al-Salam
12- Mahmud Khaled Fath al-Bab
13- Ashraf Ahmad Hussein
14- Imam Hanafi Imam
15- Adel Imam Khalaf
16- Muhammad `Abbas Kheir
17- Mustafa Khalil Faragallah
18- Nabil Fathi al-Sharbati
19- Yahia `Abbas Hamdi al-Qazzaz
20- `Alaa `Abdallah `Abd al-Shafi
21- Ayman Muhammad al-Shahhat
22- Ahmad Helmi Salem
23- Muhsin Beshir
24- Wael Ahmad Khalil

To view photos of the clash between protesters and Egyptian security, please see:

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