Clashes between security forces and protesters two days ago in front of Ittihadiya Palace during the first anniversary of the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak have prompted serious questions about Muslim Brotherhood affiliated militias cooperating with the police to arrest protesters. These allegations were shown in footage on news channels. In addition, a report issued by Amnesty International has shed light on this subject through documented testimonies from activists who were tortured in the camps of the Central Security Forces. Some said that individuals in civilian clothes arrested them and then handed them over to the police.
The clashes continued until yesterday morning; al-Mirghani Street, facing the presidential palace, was transformed into a battle field. Car tires were set alight and the smoke was used as a shield against tear gas heavily fired by the police.
According to a medical source at the Heliopolis Hospital, dozens of protesters were wounded during the clashes, five of whom suffered from gunshot wounds.
After a long night of attack and retreat to the vicinity of the presidential palace, the situation was calmed and cleaners started removing the remains of the battle. At the same time, the authorities have moved a burnt-out car from the middle of al-Mirghani Street, while the majority of shops are closed.
Videos broadcasted by local channels showed individuals in civilian clothes getting out of a police armored vehicle and attempting to pull one of the protesters inside. The activists then threw Molotov cocktails at the assailants, causing them to retreat into the vehicle.
The three people seemed untrained, given the haphazard way in which they arrested and pulled protesters inside the vehicle, in addition to showing poor driving skills when trying to drive the armored vehicle away. The vehicle kept moving back and forth for several seconds until it was out of the scene. Other video footage depicted a civilian firing a shotgun, though it wasn’t clear whether the group of people belonged to police forces or protesters, resulting in a large deployment of unidentified gunmen.
While the Ministry of Interior announced that they had arrested 20 people from around Ittihadiya Palace, the Middle East News Agency (MENA) reported protesters saying that “members of Muslim Brotherhoods are cooperating with the Central Security Forces; masked civilians are patrolling in police armored vehicles arresting and pulling protesters inside.”
MENA mentioned that police forces were firing birdshot at protesters, hitting some in the eye and leaving others injured. MENA confirmed that the majority of arrests were being conducted by individuals in plain clothes.
The testimonies of activists who were arrested during the protests ongoing since Jan. 25 confirmed this story and were mentioned in Amnesty International’s report. The organization said that “two years after the ousting of Mubarak, frustration is growing at the slow pace of reform and ongoing abuses committed by police and other security forces who continue to act with impunity.”
“Police brutality was one of the main triggers of the January 25 Revolution, however, the current Egyptian administration has evidently learned little from the downfall of its predecessor. Despite overwhelming evidence, the Egyptian government turns a blind eye to persistent allegations of torture insisting they are “isolated acts,” the report stated.
The report shed light on the egregious incident of Hamada Saber who was “brutally beaten” by riot police forces. These practices “served as proof of the continuing brutality of the Egyptian security forces. Saber changed his testimony numerous times, initially blaming protesters, raising the question of whether he was subject to pressure from the Ministry of Interior. This incident echoes the old tactics of brutality, denial and attempts to cover-up by the government.” According to the report, Saber was not the only victim; testimonies of other protesters who were brutally arrested and beaten by police forces were mentioned.
A 17 year-old activist told Amnesty International that on the afternoon of Jan. 30 he was stopped on Talaat Harb Street, in the vicinity of the protests, by two men in civilian clothes who handed him over to the riot police. “I found myself encircled by some 30 members of the riot police, beating me with batons all over my face and body, including my back, shoulder and arms. They threw me on the ground and continued stepping on me with their boots and dragging me on the ground, all the while kicking me and hitting me with batons. My left eye was swollen and my back was all bloody when they were done,” he said.
The young activist clarifies that he was later transferred with nine other detainees to the Tora prison of the Central Security Forces where he “suffered more humiliation and beatings.” He recounted that other detainees were forced to strip down their clothes for 45 minutes and stand in the freezing cold. Members of the police continued beating them, specifically targeting the existing wounds that were the result of the initial arrests.
The activist highlighted the fact that he was not presented to the prosecution until five days later. During this time he was denied contact with relatives, access to lawyers or medical treatment. “I had hoped that things would change with our new president, but everything is the same. We wanted freedom and dignity; instead I was beaten and humiliated just as it was before the revolution,” he said.
The organization emphasized that many detainees were minors and subjected to the same ill-treatment as adults. Some of them were released without charge while others continue to be detained or have been released on bail on charges of rioting, damaging public property and attacking officials on duty.
Mohamed, 16, told Amnesty International that he was arrested on Jan. 28 in the vicinity of Tahrir Square.
“About three members of the riot police started beating me with batons all over my body. They took off my belt and beat me with it as well. I fell on the ground as they continued beating me, and stomped on my back with their boots. Then they put me in an armored vehicle. I was the first one there, but periodically they would bring another person. Every new individual they brought looked like he was beaten. One guy had a swollen eye; another couldn’t move or stand-up and was in really poor shape. Eventually, we were about 25, including children. About seven riot policemen came inside and started beating us at random with their batons and belts. We stayed in the vehicle for the entire night, and at some point; they [the riot police] sprayed tear gas inside. Someone lost consciousness; they wouldn’t even give us any water. The next morning, we were taken to the Salam prison of the riot police. I first saw the prosecutor on Saturday night, five days after the arrest,” he professed.
In the same context, the constitution compels police forces to present any detainee to prosecution after one day of arrest.
Amnesty International pointed out the case of Mohamed al-Gendy, a member of the Popular Current Party, who went missing during the protests only to later be found dead in a public hospital. Gendy’s family accused police forces of torturing him to death while the minister of justice and other key security officials claimed that he passed away in a traffic accident.
Amnesty International quoted a friend of Gendy’s, saying that he saw the victim’s body at the hospital and that there were clear signs of torture all over it. These included “bruises on his back and neck, while his fingers were swollen and his nails were almost totally removed. A bullet had also penetrated deeply into his head.”
An official document obtained by Amnesty International indicated that “Gendy suffered from several injuries in the head as well as from brain hemorrhage.”
The organization also mentioned that Gendy’s relatives suspected torture to be the cause of his death. Their suspicions stemmed from unofficial information they received about him being detained in the El-Gabal El-Ahmar prison of Central Security. Four of his friends visited the camp to try to find out where he was, and they searched a record with the names of 67 detainees, and Gendy wasn’t among them.
Moreover, Gendy’s friends said that they showed his pictures to some men who were released from the camp, and one of them recognized him. According to him, Gendy was detained in El-Gabal El-Ahmar prison. His spectacles were broken, and he suffered from a head injury.
Gendy’s friends asked the administration at Al-Hilal Hospital, where he had died, about his being there between Jan. 28 and 30, they were told that no such patient was listed in the hospital’s records. Thus, the suspicions grew, especially since a witness testified before Qasr el-Nil prosecution that he had seen Gendy in the prison.
Amnesty International demanded that the Egyptian authorities carry out “an impartial and independent investigation into Gendy’s death, with testimonies from all the men arrested in the riots in El-Gabal El-Ahmar prison. The official parties, suspected of being implicated in Gendy’s death, specifically the Ministry of Interior, should not participate in collecting evidence or providing sensitive information in this case, and all witnesses should be protected from harassment and duress.” The organization added that “escaping punishment and police violence was one of the characteristics of Mubarak’s regime. Two years have passed since Mubarak stepped down. Mohammed Morsi should take decisive measures to guarantee that his rule does not have the same characteristics.”
Meanwhile, some skirmishes occurred between the police and protesters near Tahrir Square, after youths hurled stones at police who were behind a concrete wall at the entrance of Sheikh Rihan Street. The police threw the stones back in response.
The protesters blocked Tahrir Square, where dozens of government institutions are located, and there were arguments between employees and citizens who wanted to settle their affairs. Boys and masked men threw stones at the facade of Shabrad Hotel near Tahrir Square, as well as the nearby Ministry of Industry building.