(New York) – Egypt’s political crisis underlines the need for accountability and for the authorities to take all reasonable steps to protect the right to life. In the midst of massive and mostly peaceful anti-government protests and pro-government rallies across the country on June 30, 2013, clashes left at least 24 dead and hundreds injured, mostly anti-Morsy protesters. The police and other security forces failed to deploy sufficient forces in key locations despite anticipation of widespread violence.
With the prospect of more protests ahead, the potential for street battles and further violence is high. Security forces should plan to deploy to locations where lives and security are at great risk, while complying with international standards of policing.
“Whatever happens over the next few days, all sides should take all possible steps to ensure that their supporters avoid violence and use of lethal force,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “President Morsy’s supporters, his opponents and all security forces will be judged by Egyptians and the world on how well they protect human rights, especially the right to life.”
Accountability for past abuses by the security forces and protection of basic human rights are key elements for any peaceful transition out of the current political impasse, Human Rights Watch said.
Activist groups had called for the June 30 protests to mark President Mohamed Morsy’s first anniversary as president. On July 1, the Egyptian army high command warned that it would intervene in coming days if President Morsy’s government does not meet protester demands to resign or schedule early presidential elections. The Freedom and Justice Party, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, called for a march in support of the president on the evening of July 1.
In the June 30 demonstrations in Cairo, Alexandria, and other cities, some protesters attacked offices of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party with rocks and Molotov cocktails. In some cities uniformed police joined the protests, including in Alexandria on June 28.
There were also numerous reports of sexual assaults, and attacks on people who appeared to be Islamists.
The worst violence occurred in the Moqattam area in Cairo, where the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters are located, and in Assiout, Bani Soueif, Fayoum, Mansoura and, Alexandria. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the gunfire at the Brotherhood office in Cairo came from inside the building.
The most striking feature of all the violent incidents in which lives were lost was the absence of security forces, though the attacks were anticipated and in some cases the violence lasted over several hours, Human Rights Watch said.
Security agencies have a responsibility to protect Egyptians and others from violent attacks, regardless of their political affiliations, including both inside and outside political party offices, Human Rights Watch said. With the prospect of more protests and unrest, the police and other security forces need to play an impartial role with protecting lives as their top priority.
Security forces, including the military when it is acting in a law-enforcement capacity, have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect the right to life and to security, in particular where the security forces can anticipate that an attack will take place, Human Rights Watch said.
Accounts by Witnesses and Other Assaults
After a day of peaceful protests in Cairo, several hundred protesters gathered outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Moqattam at about 8 p.m. and started throwing Molotov cocktails at the building. Eight witnesses told Human Rights Watch that over the following 10 hours they heard gunfire coming from inside the Brotherhood headquarters. The Health Ministry confirmed on July 1 that eight people had been killed by live ammunition.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they saw a 13-year-old boy shot in the stomach as well as a 25-year-old man shot in the head with live gunfire, and another man shot in the eye with birdshot fired by a shotgun from the second or third floor of the building. Four witnesses told Human Rights Watch that two gray armored vehicles and one riot police van drove by during the evening but did nothing to engage and left soon after. Another witness said that police arrived at around 5 a.m., entered the building and arrested four people.
A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, Gehad al-Haddad, tweeted at one point that the attack on the Moqattam offices had been televised for the previous 10 hours and “still no police on site and no end in sight.” A young man who was outside the offices told Human Rights Watch:
They were shooting live ammunition from 11 p.m. onward. One of my friends was trying to run behind a TV van but he got hit. It was right at the intersection in front of the building. I was standing next to him. He was hit right in the forehead.
In Assiut, hundreds gathered peacefully outside the governorate building, on the same street as the Freedom and Justice Party offices. One protester told Human Rights Watch that at around 9 p.m., the sound of gunfire rang out and the crowd started to run, as a video taken by a protester and appears to show. By the end of the night, Abanoub Atef, Mohamed Abdel Hamid, Mohamed Shaker, and a fourth man had died of gunshot wounds. Witnesses said the shooting came from the Freedom and Justice party offices but the party issued a statement saying that its members were “not the ones who did the shooting.”
Hossam Mostafa, a protester, told Human Rights Watch that a small number of police were at the site from around 10 p.m. until 2 a.m. He said that at 10 p.m. he saw one riot police officer shoot teargas to disperse protesters and that unknown parties shot at him. Apart from that, he said, he saw no police involvement.
In Fayoum, Mohamed Ashraf Korany, a protester, was shot in the head on Gamal Abdel Nasser Street, near the Freedom and Justice Party’s main office. A witness told Human Rights Watch that Korany had been protesting with others when clashes broke out between Muslim Brotherhood members inside the party offices and anti-Morsy protesters outside. Mohamed Farghaly, a journalist, told Human Rights Watch that both sides had used birdshot and live ammunition. He said he saw no police at the site during the clashes.
In Alexandria, five protesters died over three days of protests, from June 28 to June 30. During the afternoon of June 28, protesters marching from various parts of the city went to the Sidi Gaber train station. Noha Kamal, who participated in one of the marches, told Human Rights Watch that the march she participated in remained peaceful, but that there were clashes at the station when they arrived just before 3 p.m.
She said that armed Brotherhood supporters were on the central railway platform and on the side closest to their nearby headquarters in Smouha. Approximately 10 vans carrying riot police were on the scene as well as two armored personnel carriers, though most of the security vehicles left during the clashes.
Salah Haggag, who was shot in the leg while filming the events, told Human Rights Watch that gunfire began a few minutes after he arrived on the scene at approximately 3:15 p.m. “The protesters wanted to go through the tunnel [under the station] and the Ikhwan [Brotherhood] wanted to prevent them, so there was a scuffle. Then they [the Brotherhood] began shooting.”
Kamal said: “The police were just standing to one side. Then one of them was shot in the face with birdshot and they began firing back.”
Haggag said two armored personnel carriers approached the train station from the main gate, where protesters were gathered, and police fired teargas and birdshot in the direction of Brotherhood supporters. Video he filmed, viewed by Human Rights Watch, shows a policeman in an armored van firing teargas sporadically in the direction of the Brotherhood supporters and asking for instructions on his walkie-talkie. Protesters begin shouting, “The people and the police are one hand.”
Another video, published byAl Badil newspaper, also shows members of the Central Security Forces (riot police) shooting teargas and birdshot in the direction of Morsy supporters while youths yelling anti-Morsy insults ran behind them.
Ahmed al-Shazly, the Alexandria director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said that at least 76 protesters were injured by birdshot and live ammunition. The Miri hospital received at least 50 injured protesters, including three who remained in critical condition.
Protesters eventually reached an apartment building in which the Muslim Brotherhood had their Alexandria headquarters, close to the station. They set fire to the office, burning papers and throwing items from the windows. Khalaf Bayoumy, director of the Alexandria-based Shehab Center for Human Rights, told Human Rights Watch that 27 people were injured in the attack on the headquarters.
Assault on Men Who Appeared to be Islamists
The absence of the police also allowed for mob assaults on individuals. A video published by the Egyptian news website Youm 7 shows a man, stripped to his underwear, lying bloodied on the ground, after apparently being dragged through the street. The video shows an ambulance arriving and some of the men around the injured man escorting him away and shouting at others to stay back, but no indication that any police were present.
One person told Human Rights Watch that he witnessed an incident outside the Brotherhood headquarters in Moqattam in Cairo in which a group of young men started beating a man they thought was a Brotherhood member. The person said the victim turned out to be someone trying to join the attack on the headquarters. The witness said that no police were there.
In Alexandria, two protesters told Human Rights Watch they had witnessed two groups of protesters beating isolated Muslim Brotherhood supporters. No police were in the vicinity, they said.
In Tahrir square, where hundreds of thousands of protesters had gathered throughout the day, mobs assaulted and gang raped at least 46 women, according to reports received by the group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment. Several of the women needed medical assistance, with one requiring surgery after being raped with a sharp object, a member of the group said. Security forces were absent from the Tahrir Square area that day.