Egypt's denial of police brutality in Khalid Said death spurs fresh protest

More than 11,000 Egyptians have responded to a Facebook call for a Friday protest of police brutality in the death of Egyptian businessman Khalid Said. After a second autopsy, Egypt today upheld the original finding that the man had choked on a bag on drugs.

By , Correspondent

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    An activist carries a picture of slain Khalid Said with Arabic that reads "Why was Khalid killed?" during a protest in Cairo, Egypt, June 19. Khalid Said was allegedly beaten to death by two plainclothes policemen on an Alexandria street after he posted a video on the Internet of police officers sharing the spoils from a drug bust among themselves, his family said.
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Egypt’s general prosecutor said Wednesday that the results of a second autopsy uphold the conclusion that a young Egyptian businessman whose death has incited anger and protests died from choking on a bag of drugs – not from a police beating.

Witnesses say that police dragged Mr. Said out of an Internet cafe in Alexandria June 6 and beat him to death in the street. Graphic photos of his facial injuries, circulated on the Internet, support their account. Said was reportedly targeted because he was planning to make public a video that shows police officers dividing the spoils of a drug bust.

The prosecutor general ordered a second autopsy after Said’s case sparked an uproar, with protests in Cairo and Alexandria and international calls for an investigation. The US last week urged Egypt to conduct a “transparent” investigation of Said’s “troubling” death.

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'It's clear there's something wrong in this report'

The conclusion of both autopsies – that Said’s death was caused by asphyxiation from a plastic bag of marijuana lodged in his throat – are likely to fan anger among Egyptians, who have used Said’s case to protest the torture and police brutality that is widely considered to be systemic in Egypt’s police and security forces.

“It’s clear to everyone that there is something wrong in this report,” says Moataz El Fegiery, executive director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. “It’s a complicated situation, but what I’m sure about is that the Egyptian people and human rights organizations do not trust the medical examination and the prosecution. The current case has unveiled a deep confidence crisis in this important institution in Egypt.”

The prosecutor-general, Abdel Meguid Mahmud, said the new autopsy confirms that “light” injuries Said sustained when police tried to subdue him did not cause his death.

Mr. Fegiery said that regardless of what actually killed Said, the fact that the autopsy notes Said was beaten should make the police officers in the case liable for prosecution. He says the government is likely to take some kind of action against those responsible because of the public outcry surrounding the case.

But many Egyptians see the new report as an attempt by the regime to cover up another instance of police brutality, and it has provoked renewed anger.

Facebook call for silent protest

So far, nearly 11,000 people have responded to a call on Facebook for silent protests Friday in honor of Said. Organizers have called for participants to wear black, congregate in cities around Egypt, and stand silently to protest the government's actions.

They have also urged them to stand five meters apart to circumvent Egypt’s emergency law. The law makes it illegal for people to assemble and allows police to arrest people without charge and detain them indefinitely. Dozens of protesters have been beaten and arrested in recent weeks during protests in Cairo and Alexandria over Said’s case.

Many see the emergency law, which has been in place since 1981 and was last month renewed for two years, as one of the causes of the culture of impunity for police officers and security forces in Egypt.

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