Egypt: call for police to be reined in to prevent further bloodshed
Eyewitness testimony indicates ‘complete disregard for human life’ from security forces
Worrying reports of ‘thugs’ captured and tortured to death by Morsi supporters
Evidence that the security forces have once again used unwarranted live fire and other excessive force underlines the crucial need for police reform, said Amnesty International today after a weekend of violence left 90 people dead.
Security forces used live rounds and tear gas to disperse supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi during demonstrations on Saturday, leaving 80 people dead. A further 10 people were killed by gunfire during clashes in Alexandria.
The Egyptian Interior Ministry has denied using live ammunition to disperse Saturday’s protests, however testimonies from injured protesters and eyewitnesses as well as medical and video evidence collected and examined by Amnesty casts serious doubts on these claims.
Autopsies carried out on 63 of 80 bodies received by the Zeinhoum morgue in Cairo have revealed that 51 people died as a result of bullet wounds, eight sustained fatal shotgun pellet injuries and three people suffered wounds by both types of ammunition. Another person died after sustaining fractures to the skull. Ammunition extracted from eight bodies included 9mm revolver bullets as well as rifle cartridges. Meanwhile, doctors at the al-Hussein University hospital said 60% of patients they’d treated had been wounded from behind.
Abdelrahman Koury, a 22-year-old protester who was shot in the shoulder on Saturday morning, told Amnesty:
“The firing by security forces was non-stop … I survived the violence in front of the Republican Guard [where 51 Morsi supporters were killed on 8 July] but this was much worse. People kept falling around me.”
A 14-year-old boy from Fayoum was also shot in the back with shotgun pellets near the Unknown Soldier Mausoleum area. He said he had seen men dressed in black anti-riot gear shooting at demonstrators. A photograph seen by Amnesty also showed a man in police uniform aiming an AK-47 assault rifle at pro-Morsi protesters.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:
“The latest bloodshed should serve as a wake-up call to the Egyptian authorities over the urgency of police reform.
“Time and time again the Egyptian security forces have resorted to lethal force, with complete disregard for human life. Firearms should only be used by the security forces against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.
“The security forces cannot continue to operate in a climate of total impunity. The new government must prioritise long overdue reforms to the security sector. Its methods of policing protests must change to prevent further bloodshed.”
As an immediate step, the Egyptian authorities must issue clear instructions to security forces to refrain from the use of disproportionate force, Amnesty said.
Further information on reports of excessive force against protesters:
According to most accounts from protesters, violence on Friday (26 July) occurred after the police - including riot police - fired tear gas at protesters near the junction with 6 of October Bridge in Cairo at 10.45pm. The security forces used four armoured vehicles. Protesters’ testimonies as well as video evidence point to the involvement of men dressed in civilian clothing supporting security forces in the attack on pro-Morsi protesters. According to demonstrators, most of the men in civilian attire were throwing rocks, though some were also armed with knives.
Staff at nearby hospitals confirmed that the first patients from the night’s events arrived around 11pm, mostly suffering from the effects of tear gas, while some had sustained shotgun pellet wounds. The first casualties from live ammunition began arriving at about 1.30am. Protesters said that they had sought to prevent the advances of security forces and armoured vehicles towards the main sit-in area at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square by erecting barricades on Nasr Road built from pavement stones, and by throwing rocks at them. Video evidence points to the use of live fire by at least one pro-Morsi protester.
Fighting continued for hours, mainly around the area between the al-Azhar University on Nasr Road and the Mausoleum of the Unknown Soldier further down the same road. A number of protesters claimed that security forces and men in civilian clothing also used the al-Azhar University grounds as a base to shoot at them. The situation deteriorated further at about 2am with clashes continuing until about 9am. The heaviest number of casualties was reported between 6am and 7am, apparently when the number of pro-Morsi protesters increased and some of them attempted to advance on Nasr Road in the direction of 6 of October Bridge. Security forces responded with heavy gunfire.
Omar Gamal Shalaan, a 21-year-old student, said he saw masked men wearing black, believed to be members of the Ministry of Interior’s Special Forces, participating in the fighting around this time.
Another man, Alaa Mostafa, told Amnesty that he last saw his brother Mohamed, a father of three, at about 6.30am by the Unknown Soldier Mausoleum. A few hours later, Alaa discovered Mohamed’s dead body at Nasr City’s Health Insurance hospital morgue.
When Amnesty visited the hospital on the morning of 27 July, 21 bodies, which had arrived between 1.30am and 7.20am, were stretched out on mattresses on the floor at the hospital’s morgue. According to doctors present at the scene, all had died as a result of “gunshots”. A further ten bodies were brought into the Al-Hussein University hospital, mostly between 6am and 7am.
Anas Ali Mohamed Ali said his brother younger Abdel Nasser, a 33-year-old worker and father of four from Behira, was killed by live fire to the chest at around 6am while far from the clashes. Anas Ali said he himself sustained shotgun pellet injuries to the arm and chest while setting up a stone barricade. Anas filed a police report accusing the Ministers of Interior and Defence of killing his brother.
Another man, Mohamed Taha, a medical school student volunteering with the Rabaa al-Adawiya field hospital, recounted to Amnesty:
“At about 10.45pm we started receiving the first patients suffering from the effects of tear gas. At around midnight, a distraught woman came in claiming that live ammunition was being used. I decided to go closer to the site of the violence to help out. I was still wearing my white coat, and had my gloves on and basic first-aid supplies with me. I got to our first barricade; there were about six of them in total. At that stage, we [pro-Morsi protesters] were standing just before the podium [across the street from the Mausoleum]. About 50 metres away on Nasr Road, I could see riot police and thugs [men in civilian attire], and behind them [the riot police’s] armoured vehicles. There was really heavy use of tear gas, and we had to retreat, catch our breath and advance again. It was really dark, and hard to see … Lots of people died between 6am and 7am, when we advanced further towards al-Azhar University. People were falling one after another. I carried at least ten injured people towards the back; they were then loaded onto ambulances, motorcycles or cars and taken to hospitals. I was myself shot in the shoulder at about 7.30am.”
A number of protesters claimed that armed forces were guarding the podium facing the Mausoleum, but did not intervene. A few protesters said that soldiers fired warning shots into the air when riot police approached the Mausoleum.
A sample group of those killed suggests that most casualties are from villages from governorates from outside of Cairo including Behira, Alexandria, Assiut and Fayoum.
Alleged torture of anti-Morsi ‘thugs’:
As well as violations by the security forces against supporters of Morsi, there have also been reports that Morsi supporters have taken captive and tortured individuals associated with the anti-Morsi camp.
Morgue staff in Cairo told Amnesty that, since mass rival rallies began in late June, eight bodies have been brought in bearing signs of torture; some had had their nails pulled out. All victims were brought in from areas near large pro-Morsi sit-ins. Three of the victims were found in the vicinity of Rabaa al-Adawiya Square and two at the Oumran Garden, near the pro-Morsi sit-in outside Cairo University. A further three bodies, with similar signs of torture, were found dumped in a rubbish bin in Giza.
Testimonies of survivors indicate that some Morsi supporters have captured and tortured individuals they suspect of belonging to the other camp. Local residents told Amnesty that on the morning of 28 July they found two people bearing signs of torture dumped by a rubbish bin near Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. One of the victims, whose legs and arms were broken and who had swollen eyes and contusions on his chest, died shortly after. He had no identification on him. The other victim was blindfolded, had what appeared to be stab wounds on the neck and head and was bleeding profusely, according to local residents who found him.