Amnesty International Condemns Egypt's Systematic Failure to Rein in Security Forces

Press Release
February 17, 2012

Amnesty International Condemns Egypt's Systematic Failure to Rein in Security Forces

Contact: Gwen Fitzgerald, fitzgerald@aiusa.org, 202-675-8759

(New York) -- Egypt's security forces continue to kill protestors with the same brutal tactics used in Hosni Mubarak's last days in power, Amnesty International said after concluding riot police yet again used excessive force in policing protests in Cairo and Suez.

The protests earlier this month followed the Port Said tragedy in which more than 70 soccer fans from the Al-Ahly club were killed after a soccer match on February 1st.

The organization found that between February 2 and 6, the Ministry of Interior's Central Security Forces (riot police) used excessive force -- including firearms -- to disperse angry protests, killing at least 16 people and injuring hundreds of others.

"The behavior of the security forces in dealing with these protests is unfortunately very reminiscent of a time many Egyptians thought they had left behind after the 'January 25th Revolution,'" said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Amnesty International. "Promises of reform of the security forces continue to ring hollow in the face of the killing of more than 100 protesters in the last five months. Not only have the authorities not reformed the security forces but evidence of the use of rubber bullets and live ammunition is met with denial and accusation of foreign interference by Egyptian officials."

Previous calls for reform of the security sector only led to piecemeal changes while the authorities continued to inappropriately use tear gas and live ammunition.

The Egyptian authorities ostensibly announced investigations into incidents leading to the killing or severe injury of protesters. Yet no lessons were learned and no clear instructions seem to have been given to the security forces, including military personnel, to uphold the right to peaceful assembly and to police demonstrations in line with international standards.

In Cairo and Suez, lethal force was used without prior warning in February 2012 to disperse protesters who were, for the most part, peacefully demonstrating and chanting.

Some protestors were, however, throwing stones at the security forces, and Amnesty International heard occasioned reports of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at the riot police. In rare incidents, shotgun ammunition and fireworks were also fired at riot police.

Security forces have a duty to restore law and order, however, the recent use of excessive force by the security forces show a complete disrespect for human life.

"It is now very clear that the newly elected parliamentary assembly must urgently tackle the long overdue reforms to the way security forces police demonstrations. Unless the Egyptian security apparatus is reformed with the aim of providing security and upholding the right to peaceful protest, we fear more bloodshed will follow," added Hadj Sahraoui.

Casualties

The Cairo University Hospitals alone received some 269 injured people during the protests as well as seven of the 11 deaths that took place in the capital. Most of those injured were suffering from tear gas inhalation or injuries from shotgun pellets which, in some cases, caused rupture to the eye globe. In one case, a protester died from shotgun ammunition after a pellet reached his brain. Two others died from gunshots to the head and one from a gunshot to the stomach.

In Suez, Amnesty International obtained a list of some 85 injured who were treated at the Suez General Hospital, mainly from shotgun pellets and live ammunition. Five people died in the city from gunshots to the chest, head or stomach.

The above list included four members of the security forces who also reported having been injured by shotgun pellets in Suez.

Excessive use of tear gas

Amnesty International delegates witnessed riot police relentlessly firing tear gas at groups of anti-SCAF protesters standing in Cairo's Mansur street and Mohamed Mahmoud street, both leading to the Ministry of Interior and which witnessed the worst clashes.

Riot police used tear gas disproportionately in instances when protesters did not represent an imminent danger to safety. They never gave notice before firing tear gas canisters.

Volunteer doctors and witnesses in both Cairo and Suez reported that riot police aimed tear gas directly at the very field hospitals that provide first aid treatment to protesters suffering from tear gas inhalation and other injuries. In Suez, some media workers for TV 25 were also targeted directly with tear gas causing respiratory difficulties.

Some U.S.-made tear gas canisters in Suez bore a manufacture date of August 2011, suggesting they were part of a recent U.S. shipment of tear gas delivered to Egypt in November. In December 2011, Amnesty International called on global arms suppliers to halt the transfer of tear gas, small arms, ammunition and other repressive equipment to the Egyptian military and security forces.

Illustrative individual cases

Cairo

Ahmed Hassan Ali

Twenty-four year old painter Ahmed Hassan Ali, a protester in Tahrir square, suffered a rupture to his right eye from a shotgun pellet.

He told Amnesty International he was injured from a rubber bullet in Mansur Street on February 4th at 6:00 a.m. He sustained the injury as he went to tell other protesters to return to the square and avoid confrontation with the riot police. He said protesters were peacefully chanting against the SCAF when police opened fire prior to warning.

Ahmed Maher

On February 5th at around 1:30 a.m., Ahmed Maher, general coordinator of the "April 6th Youth Movement" pro-democracy protest group, was injured with a fracture in the top of his skull as he stood at the intersection of Mansur and Mohamed Mahmoud streets, causing internal bleeding.

After a meeting in the parliament, he went to tell protesters to move away from the area and end the protest, so that the authorities could build a concrete wall at Mansur Street. He fell as a result of his injury, losing his blackberry. The Twitter account he administers for the movement was subsequently hacked.

Amnesty International fears he may have been targeted in this incident as the authorities have been mounting a smear campaign against the "April 6th Youth Movement," accusing it publicly of conspiring against Egypt.

Salma Said Abdel Fattah

On February 5th at around 11:00 p.m., 26-year-old Salma Said Abdel Fattah, an activist in the "No to Military Trials for Civilians" and "Mosireen" (Determined) groups, was injured by shotgun pellets as she filmed riot police in armored vehicles attacking protesters from Mansur Street rushing toward Falaky square.

She told Amnesty International that a hooded riot police officer on the top of an armored vehicle shot at her three times -- first at her face, chest and legs, and finally as other protesters were carrying her away.

Suez

In Suez, most casualties took place near the Security Directorate headquarters near Paradise Street and Al-Shohadaa Street between February 2 and 4. The Security Directorate oversees a large square with a garden, from where protesters attempted to approach the building, among other side roads. Access to the building itself was barred by barbed wire.

Around sunset, according to protesters, riot police indiscriminately fired tear gas and shotgun ammunition without any prior warning as they approached the Security Directorate.

Mohamed Ahmed Atta

Mohamed Ahmed Atta was reportedly killed in the evening of February 2nd from a gunshot to his upper body while throwing stones at riot police. Rami Mohamed, a 25-year-old member of the "Suez Youth Bloc," told Amnesty International he had witnessed security forces shooting at Mohamed Ahmed Atta without issuing any form of warning. Rami Mohamed was himself injured the next day from a live round in his pelvis, also while throwing stones at riot police near the Security Directorate.

Mohamed Al-Sayed Ahmed Farrag

Mohamed Al-Sayed Ahmed Farrag, a 28-year-old daily wage laborer, was killed, apparently by a sniper, in the early hours of February 3rd after throwing stones at riot police. Friends of Mohamed told Amnesty International they witnessed riot police using tear gas intensively near the Security Directorate and decided to climb to the top floor of a 12-story residential building still under construction to escape from the effects of the gas.

The group said that from the roof of the building they watched security forces shooting live ammunition at protesters and saw snipers at the top of the Security Directorate building and in buildings next to it. Every time the police pushed protesters out of the square, the group would throw stones at the riot police. At around 2:00 a.m., Mohamed Al-Sayed was standing by the window when he was shot in the head and died instantly.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom and dignity are denied.