The cost of torture

The cost of torture

“The charges are based on the account of eyewitnesses, the two forensic reports and the testimony of the senior forensic doctor,” the statement said. “Charges of premeditated murder and of the beating to death of the victim were ruled out. [Said’s] death was due to asphyxia resulting from swallowing a bag filled with drugs and the injuries [inflicted by the two plainclothes officers] had nothing to do with his death.”

The two policemen denied during questioning that they tortured Said. They claim that the victim’s broken teeth and multiple fractures to his jaw occurred when he was dropped on the ground by ambulance men. It is an account that eyewitnesses, and Said’s family, categorically reject.

Said’s family’s lawyer, Mahmoud Afifi, has called for the application of Article 126 of the Penal Code. “Anyone who brutally treats or tortures an accused person should face between three and 10 years in prison,” said Afifi. He added that he would be pressing for the court to change the charges from brutality to murder.

Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, a lawyer with the Al-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture (NCRVVT) and a member of Said’s team of lawyers, argues that the charges brought against the two plainclothes officers “have nothing to do with what really happened”.

“On the basis of eyewitness accounts it is clear that they should be being tried for murder.”

Not only that, he told Al-Ahram Weekly, but the killing was planned in advance, coldly premeditated because Said had disseminated mobile video footage showing police officers at Sidi Gaber Police Station distributing the profits from a drugs raid among themselves.

“The prosecution,” says Abdel-Aziz, “has failed in its duty in not bringing charges against the main culprits in the case: the two senior police officers in Sidi Gaber police station who sent their juniors to murder Said.”

Abdel-Aziz has demanded that an independent forensic team conduct a new autopsy on Said’s body.

While the date of the beginning of the trial has not yet been set, Said’s case continues to draw international attention. On Friday Mark Toner, acting deputy spokesman of the US State Department, expressed concern over the possible death of Said at the hands of the Egyptian police. He added that the US, like the European Union, would like the Egyptian government to investigate the incident and punish its perpetrators. The US State Department, he said, had expressed its concern to the Egyptian government over “the continuing violation” of human rights in Egypt.

Government officials have criticised last week’s statement by the ambassadors of European Union states in Cairo calling for an “impartial, transparent and swift” inquiry into the circumstances of Said’s death. On 30 June the Egyptian Foreign Ministry summoned EU envoys to inform them that the statement “constitutes a clear violation of diplomatic norms and an unacceptable interference by foreign embassies in Egypt’s internal affairs” according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki. The case is pending investigation by the Egyptian judiciary and “everyone should respect its procedures and verdicts”.

Gamal Mubarak, chairman of the National Democratic Party’s (NDP) Policies Committee, has said “the party believes that justice should be administered in all cases in accordance with the rules stated in the law”.

“This applies to the case of Khaled Said, especially after the General Prosecution completed its investigations and referred the accused officers to trial.” He added that anyone responsible for the alleged murder “will be held accountable”.

But Said’s is not the only potentially embarrassing case for the Interior Ministry. A second torture, this time in a Daqahliya police station, surfaced this week. According to Al-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Violence and Torture, 18-year-old Mohamed Salah, from Beni Ebeid, was first tortured by police officers before throwing himself from a third-floor window.

The centre reports that Salah was taken to the Beni Ebeid police station on the evening of 3 July when he challenged two policemen who had refused to pay for their ride in his motorised rickshaw. NCRVVT lawyer Haitham Mohamedein told the Weekly that Salah was physically assaulted and tortured in the office of head of criminal investigations before he threw himself from the third floor window.

According to the medical report issued by the El-Salam International Hospital, obtained by the Weekly, Salah suffered a broken knee, multiple fractures of the thigh bone, a broken pelvis, suspected internal haemorrhaging, suspected concussion, a broken right hand and a fractured skull.

“We have filed a complaint against the two police officers, the head of criminal investigations and the minister of interior,” says Mohamedein. Lawyers, he adds, have been barred from meeting Salah at the hospital.

The Beni Ebeid Prosecution is still investigating the allegations. Meanwhile, no official statement has been issued by the Ministry of Interior.

Human rights and Internet activists have called for a silent vigil tomorrow to be held on the corniches of Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, Ismailia, Menoufiya, Hurghada and Sharm El-Sheikh in remembrance of Khaled Said. The call was made by the “My Name is Khaled Said” group on the social networking site Facebook, which attracted more than 255,000 members in a month, and by the 6 April Youth Movement.

Internet activists, who first rallied support for Said’s case, are now launching a wider anti-torture campaign.

“We are targeting and addressing police officers who have accounts on Facebook,” says the initiator of the “My Name is Khaled Said” group. “We aim at coaxing officers into playing a role in changing bad behaviour by exposing officers who torture people in custody.”

Observers say Internet activists and local human rights organisations are playing a central role in raising the cost of torture for the regime.

“The repercussions of the Khaled Said case has shown senior officials at the Ministry of Interior… that the political cost of police officers’ involvement in torture and other human rights violations is growing,” wrote Amr Hamzawy, senior researcher at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in the daily independent Al-Shorouk. “The growing political repercussions of torture cases are attributable to the success of human rights organisations in turning such cases into public opinion issues,” he added.

But, warns Hamzawy, any significant reduction in torture still requires “real political will in the higher echelons of the state”.