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.
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“Thanks to the Internet and bloggers, these kinds of cases become public very quickly,” says Moatez El Fegiery, executive director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. That increased awareness has led more people to speak out in the issue, says blogger and activist Hossam El Hamalawy. He says the presence of visual evidence – such as the video of Mr. Kabeer or the graphic photos of Said – are the catalysts that draw attention to certain cases while myriad others pass without note.Skip to next paragraph
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“In the past few years, this issue of police torture has been highlighted in a way that was not highlighted before,” he says. “When people now get tortured, they speak about it. The public perception of what's to be done about police torture is changing.”
What is not changing, according to rights groups, is the rate of torture, or the culture of impunity that surrounds the violence. Dawla says she can count on her fingers the number of cases in which police were brought to justice for committing torture in the past five years. Meanwhile, hundreds of victims continue to pour into Al Nadim for treatment while the police officers who abused them are still on duty – and those are only “the tip of the iceberg,” she says.
Some blame the long-standing emergency law for creating the environment in which torture and brutality thrives, and protesters have called Said the “martyr of the emergency law.” Under the law, which was implemented after the assassination of former President Anwar Sadat in 1981, police can detain people indefinitely without charge.
The “emergency law facilitates this impunity,” says Mr. Fegiery. He says police use torture variously to extract confessions or to exact revenge. “But the main reason of the impunity is lack of judicial independence.” The prosecutor general, through whom all cases must be brought, “is not eager to investigate” police officers, he says.
It is usually only the cases that hit the Internet that result in prosecution. Two police officers were convicted in the Kabeer case, but one has since returned to duty after serving only part of a three-year sentence. Last year a police officer was sentenced to five years in prison for torturing a mentally handicapped man in Alexandria in a case that received much publicity.
In addition to inciting demonstrations in Egypt, where security forces detained and beat protesters, Said’s case has attracted international attention. Amnesty International on Tuesday urged Egypt to protect the witnesses of Said’s death and his family, and to suspend the officers involved until an investigation is completed. The officers are still on duty.
A US embassy official Wednesday said the US has urged Egyptian authorities to conduct a transparent investigation “in a manner consistent with the serious allegations that have been made,” and hold accountable those responsible for Said’s death.
“The Government of Egypt last week supported a UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review recommendation that it investigate police abuse allegations effectively and independently to prosecute offenders,” said the official in a statement. “We believe this case is an opportunity to immediately demonstrate this commitment.”
Many human rights activists were hopeful Wednesday that the publicity around Said’s case would lead to a prosecution, but said it was unlikely to make a difference in the larger problem of ongoing police brutality.
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