New York: Families of the 45 protesters killed and the hundreds injured when police responded to protests over military rule with excessive force and brutality from November 19 through 24, 2011, are still waiting for justice a year later, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
Whether there will be justice for victims of the Mohamed Mahmoud protest, named after the street where it began, is a key test of President Mohamed Morsy’s commitment to police accountability and comprehensive security sector reform, Human Rights Watch said.
Mohamed Mahmoud is a major example of impunity for police violence against protesters, against the background of the recent acquittals of police officers, following poor investigations, for protester deaths in January 2011.
“Since January 2011, the police have been literally getting away with murder, again and again,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Houry added: “President Morsy should use the anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud protest to end this impunity and begin a comprehensive process of police reform to deter further abuse.”
Confrontations between protesters and the Central Security Forces (CSF), Egypt’s riot police, raged for five days in November 2011 on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, just off Tahrir square. The clashes began after riot police and military police violently dispersed a peaceful sit-in protesting military rule.
Human Rights Watch documented how police shot live ammunition, rubber bullets, and pellets into the crowd, and fired excessive amounts of teargas into spaces between buildings where protesters were positioned.
At Zeinhom morgue in central Cairo, Human Rights Watch confirmed that 22 of the dead protesters had been shot with live bullets and that three others died as a result of asphyxiation from teargas.
Police arrested and tortured dozens of protesters, including many women who were also sexually assaulted by police officers during the arrests.
The five-day toll was 45 protesters dead and over 2,000 injured. Police officers also were injured when protesters threw stones, although official numbers were not available.
An investigative judge assigned to look into the violence referred only one police officer to trial – Mahmoud Sobhi Shennawy, on charges of attempted murder and intention to permanently maim.
A video clip that circulated online clearly appears to show Shennawy shooting at shoulder height into the crowd. Right after he fires, someone next to him can be heard saying, “You got him in the eye, well done.” His trial is ongoing, the next session is scheduled for December 5.
The judge made no serious attempt, though, to identify other police deployed that day who were responsible for the killings, injury, and torture of protesters.
A fact-finding committee set up by Morsy in July 2012 has a mandate to review “measures taken by executive branches of government and the extent to which they cooperated with the judicial authorities and any shortcomings that may exist.”
The committee included the Mohamed Mahmoud protest as one of the incidents it is investigating, and is scheduled to submit a report with recommendations for accountability by the end of the year.
“All police officers responsible for killing, blinding, injuring, and torturing protesters at Mohamed Mahmoud need to be prosecuted and punished if Egypt is serious about deterring these abusive practices,” Houry said.
He added: “It’s equally important to carry out a fundamental reform of regulations and practices on security force use of lethal and nonlethal weapons and on how they should police demonstrations in line with human rights standards.”