Egypt: Security forces' use of 'excessive' force during 6 October crackdown must be investigated
Amnesty International is calling for a full, impartial and independent investigation into the deaths of at least 49 people after the Egyptian security forces used excessive and unwarranted lethal force to disperse pro-Morsi protests just over a week ago.
Amnesty has gathered evidence from eyewitnesses, health officials and wounded protesters suggesting that Egypt’s security forces used live ammunition to disperse crowds of mostly peaceful demonstrators during the protests on 6 October.
According to eyewitnesses, in some instances, security forces stood by as men in civilian clothing armed with knives, swords or firearms attacked and clashed with demonstrators. The security forces fired tear gas and live rounds to stop two pro-Morsi marches heading towards Tahrir Square, where pro-army rallies to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Egypt’s war with Israel were taking place.
In the bloodiest incident in the Al-Dokki district of Greater Cairo, 30 people were killed as security forces used teargas, shotguns and live ammunition against protesters attempting to reach and cross a bridge leading to Tahrir Square. Eyewitnesses said that armed men in civilian dress attacked demonstrators, in some cases stabbing them as security forces looked on. According to mortuary records, 27 died as a result of live ammunition and three others as a result of shotgun pellet wounds.
Amnesty fears that some of those arrested were merely exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and is calling for all those arrested to either be charged with recognisably criminal offences or released. Some detainees were held in unofficial places of detention such as riot police camps. Many were denied access to their lawyers and families. Amnesty is also calling on the Egyptian authorities to ensure all those in custody are granted immediate access to lawyers, their relatives and any medical attention they require.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“The Egyptian security forces patently failed to prevent the loss of life. In a number of cases bystanders or non-violent protesters were caught up in the violence.
“Although some pro-Morsi protesters threw rocks, burned tyres and used fireworks or other incendiaries against security forces and local residents, the security forces – once again –resorted to the use of lethal force when it was not strictly necessary.
“Excessive use of force seems to have become the ‘normal’ modus operandi of Egyptian security forces.
“The Egyptian security forces have an abysmal track record of using disproportionate force during protests. The authorities’ utter disregard for international standards on the lawful use of force suggests that they are prepared to crackdown on Morsi supporters at any cost.”
At Ibn Sina Hospital, Amnesty representatives saw five dead bodies lying on the floor in the reception area hours after the clashes. A young man in blood-soaked clothes told the organisation that he helped carry several injured protesters to the hospital in his arms. Amnesty also met at least five people who had been struck in the eye by shotgun pellets and could go blind or partially blind as a result.
Among them was an unemployed father of two who got caught in the violence in Al-Dokki as he left a mosque nearby. He said: “When I got outside, it was chaos. There was lots of tear gas and [members of the Ministry of] Interior were shooting at protesters. Men dressed in civilian clothes were beside them... I was lost and trying to figure out where to run to, when I was shot in the head with shotgun pellets… There were no ambulances…a guy on a motorbike drove me to the hospital… I have no money for medical treatment how am I going to find work and feed my family now?”
Other eyewitnesses present at the site of the clashes also described scenes of mayhem. One told Amnesty: “We came under a rain of shotgun pellets and live ammunition… We were then attacked by ‘thugs’ [men in civilian dress]… Police, soldiers [from the armed forces] and ‘thugs’ were attacking us all at once…”
A number of protesters, including one who was shot in the stomach, said soldiers on foot had attacked the crowd from the side streets in an apparently coordinated attack.
Sixteen people were shot dead near Ramsis when security forces used live ammunition to disperse a pro-Morsi march aiming to reach Tahrir Square. Among those injured was a 16-year-old schoolboy who was shot in the arm and leg. “One bullet went straight through me and hit the man standing behind me,” he said.
Oum Sara [mother of Sara], a protester also on the scene said: “There was heavy teargas lingering in the air, and bullets whizzing by...People were running away, and security forces were chasing them...We ran with the crowd, people were falling around us.”