• October 25, 2011
  • 7 minutes read

HRW Urges Egypt not to Cover Up Military Killing of Copt Protesters

HRW Urges Egypt not to Cover Up Military Killing of Copt Protesters

 The Egyptian military’s intention to control the investigation of the use of force against unarmed Coptic Christian demonstrators during a night of clashes on October 9, 2011, raises fears of a cover-up, Human Rights Watch said today. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt’s military rulers, should transfer the investigation from the military prosecution to a fully independent and impartial investigation into the killing of unarmed protesters by military forces. The violence left two dozen protesters and bystanders and at least one military officer dead.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 participants in the demonstration who consistently testified that between 6 and 7 p.m. on October 9 at least two armored personnel vehicles (APCs) drove recklessly through crowds of demonstrators, in some cases appearing to pursue them intentionally. The protest of thousands of Copts had been peaceful until that point, and the military’s subsequent response was disproportionate. The large, heavy vehicles crushed and killed at least 10 demonstrators, as autopsies later showed.

“The military cannot investigate itself with any credibility,” said 
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This had been an essentially peaceful protest until the military used excessive force and military vehicles ran over protesters. The only hope for justice for the victims is an independent civilian-led investigation that the army fully cooperates with and cannot control and that leads to the prosecution of those responsible.”

In the dozens of cases of torture by the military that Human Rights Watch has documented this year, the cases of seven women subjected to virginity tests by the military on March 9 and the excessive use of force by the military in policing demonstrations, there has been not one prosecution, Human Rights Watch said. These include hundreds of documented cases of torture, excessive use of force in policing demonstrations, and sexual assaults on female detainees through so-called virginity tests.

Gen. Adel al-Morsi, head of Egypt’s military justice system, said on October 13 that military prosecutors would investigate the 
violence on October 9, when Copts marched to the government television building known as Maspero to protest the authorities’ failure to punish the attack on churches. The Office of the Public Prosecutor confirmed that civilian prosecutors would play no role in any investigation. Military prosecutors and judges are serving members of the military and therefore subject to the chain of command, and ultimately receive instructions from the head of the SCAF, Defense Minister Field Marshall Tantawy, who is the ultimate executive authority in Egypt. The SCAF’s October 12 news conference, at which two generals denied any use of live ammunition or intention to run over protesters, shows why an investigation by the military, and subject to military command, is likely to perpetuate military impunity, Human Rights Watch said.

At the news conference, Generals Mahmoud Hegazy and Adel Emara made public the military’s narrative of the events at Maspero, absolving soldiers of any wrongdoing. Emara insisted that “the armed forces would never and have never opened fire on the people,” and the generals claimed that armed protesters had attacked the soldiers.

“The soldiers driving armored vehicles were trying to avoid protesters, who were throwing stones and Molotov cocktail bombs at them,” Emara said, adding that the soldiers were in an “unprecedented psychological state.”

“I can’t deny that some people may have been hit, but it was not systematic,” he concluded.

Consistent and credible witness testimony, as well as independent media and video footage, contradict the military’s version of events, Human Rights Watch said.

The military has arrested at least 28 people, almost all Copts, in connection with the clashes and brought them before military prosecutors. The prosecutors ordered their detention for 15 days, pending investigation.

At the insistence of human rights lawyers working with the families of victims, forensic medical doctors from the health ministry conducted 24 autopsies on October 10, concluding in their preliminary reports that eight of the people had died of bullet wounds, two from blows to the head, and 13 from injuries and fractures inflicted by the vehicles. The 18th body had been slashed with a large knife. Autopsies were not performed on the bodies of eight other victims, which were in different morgues at that time and have since been buried.

Read the Rest of the Article on Human Rights Watch