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Beating death of Egyptian businessman Khalid Said spotlights police brutality

The beating death of Alexandria businessmen Khalid Said has lit up Egyptian social networking sites, with complaints that police brutality and torture is widespread within the close US ally. Egypt's emergency law gives security forces broad powers and demands little accountability.

By Correspondent / June 18, 2010

Egyptian protesters hold pictures showing slain Egyptian businessman Khaled Said as they shout anti-police slogans during a demonstration in Alexandria, Egypt Wednesday. Anger is spreading in Egypt over the latest example of police brutality and torture within the close US ally.

AP

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Cairo

Anger is spreading in Egypt over the latest example of police brutality and torture in one of the strongest US allies in the Middle East.

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Egyptian businessman Khalid Said died during what witnesses say was a brutal public beating by police officers on June 6 in Alexandria. His death has ignited protests in Cairo and Alexandria and demands for justice have spread like wildfire on blogs and social networking sites.

But the furor over Mr. Said’s death is not an indication that his case is unique. Rights groups say that while awareness has grown in recent years, police brutality and torture continues to be widespread in Egypt, where an emergency law that grants wide powers to security forces has been in place for nearly three decades. Except for a handful of cases, police have rarely been held accountable.

The US has said it would like Egypt to improve its human rights record, but so far, the Obama Administration has not indicated that failure to make significant progress would affect US military and economic aid.

Aida Seif El Dawla, head of the El Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, says Said’s case is “flagrant,” but not unusual. Dr. Dawla says that the number of torture and brutality cases documented by the Nadim Center has risen in the past few years.

“People are getting angrier, and this is the only thing that maintains the stability of the regime,” she says. “Stories like this are meant to terrorize the victims and the people around the victims. And this is how the regime is ruling – by terror.”

Said was reportedly targeted because he intended to make public a video that allegedly shows police officers dividing the spoils of a drug bust. Graphic pictures of the injuries that killed Said, coupled with the public nature of his beating death and the fact that he was an affable, middle-class man, have propelled his tragic case to prominence, largely through posts on social-networking sites and blogs.

Egypt is investigating the death, and the prosecutor general Tuesday ordered a new autopsy of Said, supervised by independent forensic experts, in response to the local and international uproar over the killing. The government’s first official autopsy report claimed that Said died from asphyxiation after swallowing a plastic bag of narcotics when he was approached by police. Said’s family and witnesses at the Internet cafe where police apprehended him tell a different story, saying police began the abuse in the cafe, then dragged him outside, where they beat him to death.

A battered young man

Gruesome photos of Said, reportedly taken in the morgue and circulated on websites and blogs, support their story. They show his face broken and battered, and bruises on his body.

New media has played an increasing role in recent years in publicizing cases of torture and police brutality, as in the torture and sexual abuse of Emad El Kabeer by police officers in 2006, which was revealed when bloggers posted a video of the abuse online. Mr. Kabeer, a minibus driver, was sexually assaulted and whipped for hours at a police station. He was later sentenced to three months in jail for resisting arrest. (Editor's note: The original version misstated the origin of the abuse video that appeared online.)

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