March 6, 2015
CAIRO— Three men killed in a single day in the Egyptian capital, their deaths united by one common factor: Each was killed by police.
One was a minibus driver, shot to death when he tried to elude officers asking for his license. Another was a 19-year-old under police guard in a hospital bed after suffering a gunshot wound. The teen allegedly taunted the guard, who responded by pumping seven bullets into him. The third was beaten to death in a police station, his family and witnesses said.
The Feb. 1 incidents, which took place in two neighboring districts, went largely unnoticed in Egypt. But they illustrate warnings by rights activists that the country’s security forces, whose oppressiveness helped spark the 2011 uprising, again have a free hand to abuse now that they are waging what the government calls a “war on terror.”
At least 121 deaths have been reported in police stations since the beginning of 2014, many caused by deprivation of medical care or torture, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday that pointed to a “near total lack of accountability for abuses” by security forces.
The interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, who is in charge of police, was removed Thursday in a Cabinet reshuffle, a move Egyptian media said was due to failures in the fight against militants and increasing abuses.
The Associated Press examined the three Feb. 1 deaths by interviewing family members, prosecutors and lawyers. In all three cases, authorities have either not prosecuted the policemen involved or are poised to indict them on lesser charges.
The security forces were once the enforcers of Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic rule and faced the brunt of hatred during the 18-day uprising that ousted the longtime president in 2011. The police were humiliated in clashes with protesters, disappearing from the streets for months.
But they have returned to prominence. Since the military’s 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, security forces have waged a harsh crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, killing hundreds of protesters and flooding jails with tens of thousands of detainees.
The campaign has been portrayed by the government as a fight against terrorism, as authorities battle an insurgency by Islamic militants. Bombings and shootings target police and soldiers several times a week in Cairo and other cities, and media laud the police as heroes in the fight.
“Your hands were not tied and won’t be tied,” President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi told police in a speech the day after a Jan. 30 militant attack in Sinai that killed 31 soldiers and policemen. “Don’t be unjust. … This is not a matter of tying (hands), it is an obligation.”
Sayyed Tohami’s family learned of his death in a phone call from his brother, Mohammed, from the police station in the populous Cairo district of Rod el-Farag where the siblings were both incarcerated. Police had beaten him to death in front of all the inmates, the brother said. Tohami’s family and friends descended on the station, protesting and chanting, “The police are thugs!”
Sayyed Tohami had been serving a two-month sentence for possession of a knife, according to his elder brother, Tohami Tohami. Only days before his death, the family filed a complaint that police had beaten him, showing a picture of bruises and cuts on his face and body.
Early on the day he died, Sayyed Tohami had complained of stomach pains and was taken briefly to the hospital, Tohami Tohami said, recounting what he was told by other inmates.
Fearing for his safety, the inmates said they shouted and banged on their cell doors, asking where he was. “We’ll show him to you,” they said the guards responded, dragging the handcuffed 28-year-old from cell to cell, jumping on his back, and kicking his head and face.
The Interior Ministry said Tohami died of diabetes.
The family showed the AP a photo of his body at the morgue, his face badly bruised. The family is awaiting the final forensic report on the cause of death.
Ironically, the Tohami brothers were among those who were asked by police to protect the police station during the early days of the 2011 revolution, when angry residents attacked it, setting it ablaze and beating up fleeing officers.
Tohami Tohami said he believes the police now want to avenge the humiliation.
“The police now are a million times worse than before the revolution,” he said. “There will be a revolution and it will be much worse than the first one.”
On the other side of the Nile River, in Cairo’s Imbaba district, Walid Farghali left his house around 4:30 a.m. for his shift driving a minibus. When he got to the lot, police approached him demanding to see his license, his boss, Mahmoud Hanafi, told the AP, adding that police regularly seek bribes to overlook violations.
Farghali didn’t have a proper license. When he tried to drive away, two police cars chased him, then opened fire.
Hanafi said he got a phone call at 5:40 a.m. saying Farghali was dead. He showed the AP pictures of the minibus, its windshield and sides riddled with bullet holes.
“This is the first time in my life I hear of a policeman shooting a driver for not having a license,” Hanafi said. “He is a human being. He’s driving a microbus, he wants to work … We are not in a war. Why?”
One policeman was ordered detained for four days, but prosecutors freed him after two. “The accusation is murder, but it didn’t seem like murder,” prosecutor Ahmed el-Hamzawi told the AP.
Press reports said investigators considered the shooting as self-defense after Farghali “broke through” a checkpoint.
A family lawyer, Medhat Salem, said he believes that means prosecutors won’t press charges.
Ragab, Farghali’s brother, said he has no hope of justice.”It’s government judging government,” he said. “I won’t get my rights.”
That same morning, a policeman guarding 19-year-old Mohammed Ahmed shot the teenager seven times in the chest and stomach as he lay in his hospital bed in Cairo’s Imbaba district.
Ahmed was arrested on Jan. 25, accused in the attempted bombing of a local council building. He was being treated for a bullet wound to his leg. Prosecutors say he was wounded in an exchange of fire with police during his arrest, then confessed to the bombing attempt and to belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The family says Ahmed was seized by police while heading to a supermarket to buy milk and then tortured into confessing.
His sister, Shimaa Abdel-Atti, said she visited Ahmed in the hospital on Jan. 31 and he told her he had been tortured for hours. He said police shot him in the leg, chopped off his middle finger and pulled a nail out of another finger, then beat him with a nail-studded stick on the head and slashed his back. She said she saw the wounds on his back.
She showed the AP a photo of her brother from that day, wearing a robe with two fingers in a bandage.
“I always heard of torture but it was very hard on me to imagine this being done to my own brother,” she said.
On Feb. 1, the next day, she and her mother returned to the hospital for a visit and her brother was gone — the sheets of the bed and walls of his room splattered with blood.
The policeman surrendered after the shooting, telling investigators that Ahmed had gloated over the deadly Sinai militant attack on Jan. 30 and proclaimed, “It’s just a matter of days before all of you die,” prosecutor Ibrahim Badawi told the AP.
“The policeman lost his mind and pulled the trigger,” the prosecutor said.
The policeman is now in detention, facing possible manslaughter charges, Badawi said.
Osama Ramadan el-Gouhari, a lawyer for the family, said prosecutors did not investigate the family’s complaint that Ahmed was tortured. He said he believes the policeman will be charged with killing “under influence,” which could bring a lighter punishment.
“My son was not a terrorist,” said Ahmed’s mother, Hayam Salama, weeping. “Show me evidence he was a terrorist.”
“Even if he were a terrorist, aren’t we in a state that respects law?”