Unnecessary Lethal Force Used by Security Forces in Weekend Protests in Egypt

Press Release
January 28, 2013

Unnecessary Lethal Force Used by Security Forces in Weekend Protests in Egypt

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, strimel@aiusa.org, 212-633-4150, @strimel

(New York) – Amnesty International said today its researchers documented unnecessary lethal force by security forces in Egypt during a weekend of clashes with demonstrators marking the second anniversary of the Egyptian uprising. The human rights organization said eyewitnesses described random shootings by forces during the protests.

After three days of violence that claimed at least 45 lives and led to more than 1,000 injured, Amnesty International called for an end to the use of excessive force, urging Egyptian security forces to refrain from doing so unless it is unavoidable to protect life.

A researcher from Amnesty International investigating killings in Suez collected disturbing eyewitness accounts of excessive force, including in some instances security forces using lethal force when it was not strictly necessary to protect life, including when protesters did not pose an imminent threat to them or others.

The security forces also breached Egyptian legislation which, while falling short of international standards, does set some limits on the use of firearms by police, including requiring the issuing of audible warnings and aiming at the feet.

“As more protests continue today to commemorate the bloodiest day of the ‘25 January Revolution’, the Egyptian authorities must issue clear orders to those policing protests to respect freedom of peaceful assembly and avoid unnecessary or excessive force,” said Amnesty International’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “They must make absolutely clear that those that use arbitrary and excessive force will be brought to justice.”

“The recourse to violence by some protesters does not give a blank check to the police to shoot and beat protesters. All this comes against the backdrop of decades in which the security forces have operated with impunity – in some cases getting away with murder.”

At least nine people, including one member of the security forces, died in Suez on Friday evening.

Protesters told Amnesty International that shortly after thousands of women, men, and children concluded a march to Suez’s security directorate, security forces fired tear gas at them, reportedly attempting to prevent protesters from storming the building.

Violence escalated after a member of the security forces, believed to be a conscript with the riot police, was seriously injured - hit in the neck by a flare believed to have been fired by a protester.

Protesters told Amnesty International that at that point, riot police “panicked” and started shooting at random and chasing fleeing protesters, leading to eight further deaths, according to medical sources, mostly in the vicinity of the nearby Governorate Building.

On Saturday, forensic pathologists arrived in Suez from Cairo to conduct post-mortem examinations in the presence of members of the military prosecution.

The head of forensics Ihsan Kamil Georges was quoted on the website of the state Al-Ahram newspaper as saying Suez protesters were shot by live ammunition, in some instances at close range and from behind.

Amnesty International is gathering testimony on the use of unnecessary and excessive use of force by security forces as the unrest continues:

• Ahmed Fawzi told Amnesty International that he was driving his motorcycle, when his friend, 16 year-old Mostafa Mohamed Aid sitting behind him, was fatally shot in the kidney;

• Mahmoud Nabil, 25, was shot in his car at the sea front away from the confrontations between police and protesters, local activists in Suez said;

• Amnesty International also examined blood stains at the entrance of a building on “Martyrs’ Street” far from the Governorate Building, where one of the protesters was shot, according to local residents;

• Protesters told Amnesty International that members of the security forces chased them into the Suez General Hospital at around 10 p.m., firing randomly.

According to local activists, six people, including a member of the security forces, were arrested in connection to the violence, while the Public Prosecutor announced investigations in connection to the violence.

On Saturday, violent clashes also erupted in Port Said in reaction to a verdict by a court in Cairo referencing the files of 21 defendants accused of responsibility for the deaths of 73 people during a football match to the Grand Mufti for ratification of their death sentences.

In protest of what they considered to be an unjust decision, supporters of the defendants violently clashed with the security forces in the vicinity of the Port Said Prison where the defendants are incarcerated.

According to the Port Said Health Directorate, some 31 people died and 322 were injured in the violence on Saturday. At least two members of the security forces were among the dead.

According to the directorate, a further five people were killed and 536 people injured on Sunday during funeral processions, when unknown assailants opened fire. Local residents estimate the death toll to be higher. Amnesty International reported more bodies arriving at the morgue late in the afternoon on Monday. Protesters told the organization that they will defy the curfew and remain on the streets as clashes continue outside local police stations.

Over the weekend, a number of official buildings and premises associated with the Muslim Brotherhood were also attacked. The Ministry of Interior announced Sunday that 120 people were under arrest in connection with the unrest across the country.

“The Egyptian authorities must ensure that investigations into these tragic deaths are conducted by an independent and impartial body not implicated in the killings, and that all those found responsible are brought to justice,” said Hadj Sahraoui.

On Sunday, President Morsi announced a month-long state of emergency and imposed a curfew in the provinces of Suez, Ismailia, and Port Said.

President Morsi stated that he was prepared to take further measures and would not hesitate to do “much more for the sake of Egypt.” The army has also been deployed to restore order.

Amnesty International has urged the Egyptian authorities to consider whether less intrusive measures would be better suited to restore order.

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, truth and dignity are denied.