- Police Aggression: Violations of the Law and Excessive Violence against Demonstrators on 28th and 29th June
- Demonstrators and 'security' both took part in violence...however the police completely turned the tide by illegally using various forms of violence
- The police verbally abused the demonstrators and their methods of engagement worsened, targeting demonstrators from behind and using chains and knives
- Eyewitnesses and doctors report the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition, shotgun cartridges and knives by the Ministry of the Interior
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) announced the results of its investigation into the events of the 28th and 29th June, in which violent clashes took place between the police forces on one side and the families of the martyrs and those demonstrating in solidarity with them on the other.
The EIPR's investigation, based on testimonies from its researchers who were present at the clashes, eyewitness statements, and field visits to hospitals which received the wounded as the events took place, concluded that both sides exchanged violence, although naturally of varying degrees. However, the police committed several violent practices which violate all the conventions governing police work, including the criteria on when to use force in cases of riot 'control'.
The EIPR, in the conclusion of its report, noted the necessity of widening the scope of the prosecutor's investigations into the events of those two days, including a full and thorough internal investigation of the police to determine the scope of responsibility for acts of violence committed by the police. It also underlined the need for clear charges against decision-makers within the Interior Ministry who are responsible for the behaviour of the police, which in itself raises questions and suspicions. Finally, it emphasised the importance of full disclosure about the results of those investigations.
In its conclusion, the EIPR recommended that the Interior Ministry issue an official statement on the time frame for restructuring the Central Security Forces to become a competent, professional force for guaranteeing public security, according to known guidelines and parameters and within the limits of the law.
How the Events Unfolded
At around 6pm on Tuesday 28th June, the area of Agouza saw clashes between a number of the relatives of the martyrs of the
25th January revolution and security forces. These clashes came against the background of a celebration to honour a limited group of the martyrs' families, organised by the a charity group 'Honest Promise'.
Opinions differ on how the clashes originally broke out, but what is certain is that they began again after an hour, at around 7pm, between security forces and the families of the martyrs supported by a larger group of demonstrators. The renewal of conflict this time, however, came outside the Interior Ministry building in Mohamed Mahmoud Street in the Downtown area and in the surrounding streets, reaching Tahrir Square. There, the clashes continued throughout the night and into the following day –29th June – near the Interior Ministry building and the surrounding streets, despite a directive from the Minister of the Interior to the security forces to withdraw from Tahrir Square, which came at around 3am.
Through the testimonies gathered by the EIPR from demonstrators, the wounded, emergency services personnel and others, it became clear that the two sides were throwing stones at each other, with demonstrators using Molotov cocktails against security forces. Security forces used rubber bullets, shotgun cartridges, and tear gas canisters against the demonstrators, and even in some cases live ammunition, according to eyewitnesses and the wounded, and confirmed by doctors.
News reports of Thursday 30th June indicated that 44 people were arrested and are under investigation by the military prosecutor for their role in events, and that the number of wounded – according to statements by the Ministry of Health – reached 1114 from the two sides. No instance of death had been recorded at the time of writing this report. However, the EIPR's investigations indicate that the number of wounded exceeded official reports, given that a large number of them sought treatment in the field hospital set up by volunteers in Tahrir Square, or in private hospitals for fear of harassment by security forces in government hospitals.
In what follows we will cite the violations by the security forces, according to the testimony of witnesses, along with a comparison of what is stipulated on these practices in both Egyptian and international law.
Security Forces and Crowd Dispersal
'The impression that we got was that the police were not trying to control a demonstration or break up a riot, but that this was a matter of personal revenge between police and demonstrators, for the officers were constantly nervous and were using obscene gestures towards the demonstrators. Perhaps the officer who was dancing with knives and swords can be seen as an embodiment of this case.'
Testimony of Mustafa Bahgat, cameraman for the website of the newspaper al-Masry al-Youm, in an interview with researchers from the EIPR, 3rd July 2011
The EIPR gathered testimonies from a number of demonstrators and the wounded, in addition to the testimonies of doctors at Mounira hospital and the field hospital in Tahrir Square and journalists who witnessed the clashes in the square and outside the Interior Ministry from several vantage points. These testimonies – as well as the large number of injured – indicate that the Central Security Forces used unlawful methods of riot control. Even legitimate means of using force in confronting rioters were used illegitimately, as indicated by eyewitnesses and also the nature and number of injuries.
The nature of the injuries
The clashes between security forces and demonstrators resulted mostly in injuries from rubber bullets and shotgun cartridges, in addition to numerous cases of asphyxiation resulting from exposure to large quantities of tear gas, and cuts and bruises from stone-throwing. The EIPR was able to document at least two cases of injuries from live ammunition.
In an interview with Doctor Mahmoud Said, head of the emergency department at Mounira General Hospital, on Wednesday 29th June at 1pm, he reported to the EIPR researchers: "Sixty-three casualties arrived at the hospital, beginning at 11.45pm or near midnight. 57 of those were from the army or the police, and there were six civilians. The injuries varied between trauma, cuts, bruises, and asphyxiation (due to the tear gas). Among the civilians there were injuries from rubber bullets, as well as one case (civilian) with a gunshot wound (the projectile itself was not available to us).”
In the same context, Doctor Abir Ali – a doctor at the Tahrir Square Field Hospital – described the injuries in the field hospital as follows: "I myself saw over 1500 injured, most of them with rubber bullets, in addition to asphyxiations and burns caused by tear gas, and cuts and bruises from stones. I treated one demonstrator who was wounded by a live bullet close to his heart and another in his foot, and he said that Central Security Forces were the ones who shot him with live ammunition."
Insulting demonstrators and the use of implements not authorised in riot control
Police operations in controlling demonstrations are regulated by Ministry of Interior decree number 139 of 1955, 'Report on special provisions for public meetings and demonstrations in public roads'. The decree deals with the procedures and steps which must be followed when dispersing a crowd. It states that the process begins with a warning to the crowd, then allowing them a reasonable period of time to disperse, followed by another warning if they do not respond to the first. After that, a gradual escalation of force is used, moving from tear gas to water cannons and rubber bullets, finishing with live fire, all of which must be carried out in accordance with certain standards which forbid targeting the upper half of the body and stipulate that care must be taken not to endanger the lives of demonstrators.
In general, international standards forbid the use of force on the part of security forces and law enforcement authorities, unless there are certain conditions and criteria which restrict its use. These international standards prevent officials charged with maintaining security and enforcing the law from using force except as a last resort and in case of utmost necessity, and only to the extent required for the performance of their duties. In those cases when there is no alternative other than the use of legitimate force, it must be used in a way commensurate with the seriousness of the crime and the legitimate objective to be achieved. This includes reducing damage and injury, respecting and preserving human life, and providing medical assistance as soon as possible to those injured or affected, according to the UN 'Basic principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officers.'
However, the testimonies and visual material obtained by EIPR researchers prove that a number of security personnel threw stones and Molotov cocktails at demonstrators, and even used swords and knives to intimidate them. This is even though stones, Molotov cocktails and swords are not implements permitted for use by security officers to break up demonstrations, or indeed in any other cases.
One member of the Central Security Forces – who refused to reveal his name – told the EIPR researchers that the stone-throwing by security forces came as a response to attacks by demonstrators on police officers. "We had no orders to use weapons, only two officers who were assigned to guard the Interior Ministry were allowed to use tear gas to repel attacks on the building. The purpose was to respond to the demonstrators and send them back to their homes, but we failed. Some of the officers tried to negotiate with the demonstrators, but they refused to negotiate."
It is clear from one of the video recordings and from testimonies of eyewitnesses that the police forces, rather than following the procedure of issuing a warning to demonstrators gathered outside the Interior Ministry, instead followed a number of well-documented practices which explicitly violated both the letter and spirit of the law. They verbally abused demonstrators and their families, using loudspeakers mounted on armoured vehicles, and a number of them used obscene hand gestures to further insult demonstrators. Then the order came for some security personnel to use swords and knives in exhibitionist scenes, the purpose of which can only have been to explicitly threaten the demonstrators and put them on the offensive.
Salma Said, a participant in the demonstrations, told EIPR researchers: 'They were using microphones and megaphones in armoured vehicles, and were threatening the demonstrators and telling them 'We're going to mess you up, we're going to mess you up', and they verbally abused and insulted the demonstrators. After a little while they said to us: 'Egyptian youth, Egyptians, preserve your revolution, we are with you, peacefully, peacefully.' After a quarter of an hour they began a second assault using shotgun cartridges and tear gas, and that provoked the people a lot and they responded by throwing stones."
Illegal and excessive use of tear gas and firearms
The EIPR's field investigation concluded that security forces used tear gas intensively against demonstrators, at close range and in the direction of their bodies, which resulted in burns and severe injuries. This was in violation of legitimate uses of tear gas, in which it is fired in the air and not directly at demonstrators.
Dr Abeer Ali told EIPR researchers: "A lot of people came with asphyxiation or burns from the tear gas. One had terrible burns all over his back. That's the effect of the gas when a person is close to the bomb."
Lobna Darwish, a participant in the demonstrations, also told EIPR researchers: "I saw one kid, aged between 16 and 19, hit in the face by a tear gas canister. I didn't see him being hit but people said that he was hit by that missile. (photo attached)"
Equally remarkable was the testimony of a demonstrator named Mahmoud, who said that he himself saw a soldier fire a tear gas canister at very close range in the direction of a demonstrator who could not have been more than fourteen years old. Mahmoud added that the boy received the missile in his chest, and that he took him to one of the ambulances stationed in the square, but the medic told him that the boy was dead. Researchers at the EIPR were unable to confirm this death with an official source.
The use of firearms was also directed at the upper body, wounding hundreds of demonstrators, even though the point of their use – supposedly – is to disperse and not wound people.
Some of the testimonies of the injured mentioned that they were shot in the back, which is evidence that they were targeted by security forces even as they were leaving the scenes of the clashes.
Mustafa Bahgat, cameraman for the news website al-Masry al-Youm, said:"'I reached the square at midnight on 28th June and the assault by the security forces continued without pause until I left the square at 2pm the next day. The bombardment with tear gas continued all throughout that period. Some were firing canisters up and away from the bodies of the demonstrators, whilst others targeted their bodies and fired horizontally." Bahgat added: "Buckshot was usually directed at the upper half of the body, and I filmed a captain using it very heavily. The security forces used Molotov cocktails although not heavily; I filmed two of them, one uniformed police officer and one in civilian clothes, throwing Molotov cocktails at demonstrators.'
Hisham Gamal, 21, one of the relatives of the martyrs, confirmed that the police targeted the upper half of the body during the assault with shotgun cartridges, saying: "I was hit by shotgun cartridges – one in my face, one in my back, and three in my leg. It carried on like that all night, they attacked and then we responded."
Conclusion and Recommendations
The events of the 28th and 29th June underline the need for an investigation of the serious violations committed by the police forces and especially the Central Security Forces responsible for riot control. They also show the importance of immediately issuing clear instructions to security personnel on how to deal with demonstrators, when and how to use any of the methods to control riots in accordance with the provisions of the law, and the goal of using these methods – and of making these instructions public.
The EIPR therefore recommends that the authorities concerned do the following:
1. Expand the scope of the Public Prosecutor's investigation of events to include scrutiny of the procedures followed on the 28th and 29th June in dispersing the demonstration, and the extent of the commitment of those conducting those procedures to Egyptian law and international standards, and publish the results of these investigations with full transparency. In addition, bring to trial all those found to be involved in the unlawful use of those procedures or the use of excessive violence against demonstrators, especially those found by the investigations to have deliberately caused serious injury by targeting demonstrators.
2. Identify the body or person responsible for issuing decrees and instructions ordering the excessive use of tear gas and other instruments permitted by law against demonstrators, leading to hundreds of injuries, and hold them accountable immediately.