State crimes remained unpunished: the Interior Ministry is above the law and the Public Prosecution is missing in action

The Egyptian police continue to systematically deploy violence and torture, and at times even kill. Although the January revolution was sparked in large part by police practices and vocally demanded an end to these practices, accountability for all offenders and the establishment of permanent instruments to prevent their recurrence, two years after the Revolution the situation remains unchanged. Indeed, some moments in 2011 and 2012 were worse than before the Revolution. Over this period the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) documented several cases of police violence and investigated more than 20 cases of extrajudicial killing by police as a result of torture or the unlawful use of firearms.

There has also been no thoroughgoing change, or even cosmetic improvement, in the police apparatus, whether related to its administrative structure, decision-making, oversight of police work or the reform and removal of leaders and personnel responsible for torture and killing. There has also been no notable change to rules regulating the use of force and firearms, and no amendments to the statutory framework governing police work. The Interior Ministry, backed by the cabinet at times, continues to defend criminal police personnel by denying the facts, justifying abuses or turning a blind eye as policemen facing criminal charges pressure their victims to change their statements to undermine the case. Consecutive governments have also lacked the political will to prioritize the issue of security sector reform, and even after the election of the first civilian president.

As these systematic abuses continue, policemen remain above the law and immunized from criminal accountability. In documenting the performance of the Public Prosecution and the judiciary in cases where police personnel are charged with murder or torture, the EIPR has observed clear pro-police bias on the part of the prosecution, which has taken action to immunize police from punishment. The EIPR has also observed that the Public Prosecution does not charge or at times even question policemen – contrary to what is common practice in similar cases where civilians are being investigated - and relies on the investigations of the accused security body to close the case or refer it to court without naming any police personnel as defendants.


I. Police: Ongoing violence and torture

Over the last two years, the EIPR has observed and documented police violations, particularly cases of police brutality when engaging with demonstrations or public disorder, pursuing suspects and implementing court orders or maintaining security in public places. It is clear from the data gathered that police continue to deploy excessive violence and torture systematically as it was during the Mubarak regime. Although the EIPR has documented only a sample of the violations committed by police against citizens daily, they unmistakably indicate a pattern of the use of force and police confidence that they operate in an environment devoid of accountability.


Torture and the excessive use of arms in police work

The EIPR investigated dozens of cases of torture and cruel or inhumane treatment in detention facilities in 2011 and 2012. The pattern in all these cases was the consistent use of physical and psychological violence against detainees, which in many cases led to death. Under former Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, who occupied his post from December 2011 to July 2012, the EIPR investigated two cases of lethal torture in police stations. These patterns of torture and deaths in detention also increased in numbers as time went by without any accountability. In just the five months consecutive to the previous period, from June to November 2012, the EIPR documented through media reports ten deaths in police stations and prisons in which torture was suspected, including three cases in which EIPR could confirm that the victims died as a result of torture.

The EIPR also documented unlawful killings by police as result of the arbitrary use of firearms or excessive force. Under former Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, the EIPR investigated eight cases of arbitrary killings by police ammunition in public places. It also investigated 11 cases of unlawful killing from July to November 2012 in public places during the tenure of Minister Ahmed Gamal al-Din.

Perhaps the gravest pattern we observed was the unnecessary recourse to firearms in cases that did not merit the use of any sort of force at all, in shootings in streets, police criminal checkpoints and routine traffic checkpoints. Among the incidents investigated by the EIPR is the death of Mahmoud Hassan al-Mitri in North Sinai on 28 October 2012; Mitri merely attempted to bypass a traffic checkpoint, prompting a policeman to shoot him in the head and killing him.

EIPR investigations also revealed that police regularly employ torture and firearms against those who attempt to prove police abuses, as was the case with the citizens who were killed by police with the Miyyit Ghamr police station on 16 September 2012. Police forces launched an arrest campaign at coffee shops in the industrial zone, storming shops and verbally and physically assaulting those present, including an elderly woman. When local residents objected and one attempted to file a police report for the assaulted woman, the police tortured him to death inside the police station. Afterwards, when angry locals assembled outside the police station, the force opened fire with automatic rifles, killing one person and seriously injuring another.

In addition, the EIPR documented a new pattern of abuse in which police, acting like a street gang, enforce vigilante justice on those who wrong them, in utter disregard for the law or professionalism. Perhaps the most serious incident took place in Beni Soueif on 2 July 2012, when four people were killed as soldiers and officers from the security forces camp adjacent to the village of Abu Selim suddenly attacked the village with firearms. The assault was apparently revenge after some soldiers were conned by village youths.

In a similar case on 24 December 2012, a force from the Minya security directorate attacked the neighborhood of Abu Hilal in Minya city after a police officer was killed in the course of duty there the day before, shot in a fight with a local family. The police force, led by the deputy interior minister for the northern sector of Upper Egypt, punished the entire neighborhood, beating passersby, vandalizing shops and opening fire randomly, resulting in a nine-year-old girl being shot in the head.

These incidents clearly demonstrate that police, acting in a personal or tribal manner, unlawfully used firearms with no accountability for their actions either from within the ministry or in the courts.


Engaging with demonstrations and public disorder: excessive violence against demonstrators or refusal to intervene to stop clashes

In dispersing some demonstrations, security forces used excessive force, at times including the use of firearms and live ammunition or shotgun rounds against unarmed citizens, killing more than 60 people and injuring hundreds in demonstrations since Mubarak was deposed.

This was the case in the events of Mohamed Mahmoud Street in November 2011, which left 45 people dead according to the Health Ministry, killed by police during clashes that lasted for six days. The Qasr al-Aini Hospital admitted more than 60 people injured in their eyes during this time. The same thing is true of the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes of February 2012, in which police killed 17 people after 72 Ahli soccer fans were killed in the Port Said stadium.

Small demonstrations saw the same pattern of excessive, lethal violence. In Miyyit Ghamr, for example, where protests erupted in front of the police station after a citizen was tortured to death, police used live ammunition, killing one person and gravely injuring another.

When Central Security Forces uses violence in such situations, it only further inflames citizens’ anger; as a result, at times a demonstration devolves into violent clashes that may last for more than five days.

In other cases, security forces did not intervene to prevent clashes or public disorder, as was the case at the Ittihadiya Presidential Palace on 5 December 2012, when ten people were killed in violent clashes between supporters and opponents of President Morsy that lasted for more than 12 hours without any notable security intervention. Security forces also failed to intervene when faced with unlawful detention and torture during the events, perpetrated by civilians in full view of police, who took took no action to arrest the offenders.


Same laws and policies govern police work

These ongoing violations were enabled by the lack of any genuine change in the structure of the police force or laws governing its operation. Regarding the structure of the Interior Ministry, the name of State Security Investigations was changed to Homeland Security, and some individuals were transferred, but these actions were not transparent and were not necessarily based on the logic of reform or human rights standards. No new law regulating police work has been issued thus far, and the rebranded State Security Investigations continues to operate without a clear prerogatives or oversight. The only structural change that was introduced under former minister Ahmed Gamal al-Din, was the creation of a Human Rights and Community Outreach Sector, but without any powers or prerogatives that differed from those of the Public Relations and Human Rights Directorate under the Mubarak regime. The move seems to have been merely cosmetic, aimed at separating the human rights department from public relations.

As for decrees and laws regulating police work, which legalize repression and the excessive use of force, they remain unaltered. The only change occurred when the now-dissolved parliament amended the police law to raise the salaries and incentive pay of police personnel and abolish military trials for junior policemen and personnel, the only amendment approved by then Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, in response to growing pressure from inside the police apparatus itself. Although these changes were necessary to limit financial police corruption, they were adopted without similar amendments to statutes on the use of force and firearms, the structure of the Interior Ministry and oversight of police work. The sole attempt to promote oversight of police work, made by Minister Mansour Eissawi, was an initiative to make police officers and personnel wear name tags while on duty in the streets, but in less than two months, the name tags had disappeared after the discourse of reform and rebuilding trust was replaced by a discourse stressing the need to return to the iron security grip and restore the “status” of the police in order to bring order to the streets. This shift was reflected in police conduct, which became even more violent.

Over the last two years as well, the Interior Ministry has denied or justified every new abuse by one of its own. Successive interior ministers have consistently denied that police used live ammunition or shotgun rounds in demonstrations, despite incontrovertible evidence that such ammunition was used in excess. The most recent justification for police abuses came on the tongue of Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Maqlad, deputy interior minister for the northern sector of Upper Egypt, after police assaulted the neighborhood of Abu Hilal in Minya city on 24 December 2012, beating locals and vandalizing shops. The deputy minister’s response was to excuse police officers and personnel, saying their actions were a response to the death of a police officer shot while intervening in a dispute between two families in the neighborhood. He then promised the police retribution for their slain colleague.


II. Public Prosecution: immunizing the police from punishment

The job of the Public Prosecution is to investigate criminal cases and refer the defendants to criminal trials. This makes it one of the most important players in the justice system, being the body authorized to file criminal cases, name those who will stand trial and gather the evidence on the basis of which the court will convict or acquit.


Public Prosecution bias and immunizing the police from punishment

The EIPR documented the performance of the Public Prosecution in criminal investigations involving police defendants by analyzing in detail the investigation files in four cases: the killing of prisoners during the revolution in the Qata and Appellate Prisons, the killing of two people and the injury of a third by Miyyit Ghamr police in September 2012 and the killing of one citizen and the torturing of others in the Ramlat Boulaq incident in August 2012. The analysis established that the Public Prosecution showed bias to the defendants. In the case of Miyyit Ghamr, this led to the closure of the case without the referral of any defendant to court. In the two prison cases, it resulted in extremely slow investigations, while in the case of Ramlat Boulaq the victims became the accused, as the Public Prosecution decided to refer 51 citizens to trial, among them torture victims, on charges of assaulting public servants and obstructing traffic, while declining to refer any police personnel in connection with the deaths and shooting of live ammunition at unarmed civilians.

The Public Prosecution filed no charges against the policemen responsible for the death and injury of citizens in these cases; indeed, at times it did not even question the accused officers. The prosecution failed to look for incriminating evidence, impound weapons used or police weapons logs or ask the medical examiner to remove the bullets from the victims’ bodies to determine the type of ammunition used. In the two prison cases, the Public Prosecution sent letters to the principal defendants asking them to investigate the events then approved police investigations carried out against police defendants, disregarding eyewitness testimony and medical reports that indicated that police had intentionally killed prisoners.

The EIPR also observed discriminatory practices on the part of the Public Prosecution in connection with pretrial detention. It did not order pretrial detention for any police defendants accused of killing demonstrators or those involved in the killings and torture monitored by the EIPR after the revolution, despite solid evidence against them in the investigation files. In contrast, defendants accused of assembly and obstructing roads were placed in pretrial detention based on no evidence. This contravenes the Code of Criminal Procedure, which states that a person may be placed in pretrial detention “when it is feared the investigation may be harmed by attempts to influence victims or witnesses, evidence tampering or agreements with other offenders to change or conceal the facts”[1], all of which apply in cases of police violence against civilians. Since the Interior Ministry refused to dismiss officers accused of killing demonstrators until the investigations were concluded, police defendants were able to threaten and intimidate the families of those killed and injured in the revolution, using their positions and police weapons, leading many victims to change their testimony in court and facilitating acquittals.

The same pattern was repeated in the Miyyit Ghamr events, in which the Public Prosecution failed to charge police officers, and victims’ families were repeatedly pressured to change their statements. Perhaps the only exception is the “eye sniper” case involving defendant First Lt. Mahmoud Sobhi al-Shenawi, an officer with the Central Security Forces. As of writing, he remains in pretrial detention on charges of attempting to kill and injure demonstrators and targeting their eyes during the events of Mohamed Mahmoud Street in November 2011. Yet, he was charged and detained due to the exceptional circumstances of the case. A passerby filmed a video of him aiming a shotgun at demonstrators and showing him hitting one in the eye. After the video was disseminated, some people identified al-Shenawi by name, as did several injured demonstrators. Feeling his life was in danger after his identification, al-Shenawi turned himself in to his employer and an investigation was launched.


Repeated acquittals for the killing of demonstrators during the revolution

The most significant indication of the involvement of the Public Prosecution and the criminal judiciary in immunizing policemen from punishment is the judgments issued in cases involving the killing of demonstrators in the January revolution. The performance of the Public Prosecution and the court in the trial of the deposed president, his interior minister and six aides charged with killing 225 demonstrators and injuring 1,368 in public streets and squares clearly demonstrated their desire to clear the security establishment of all blame. Ultimately, the court acquitted interior ministry aides and policemen of any responsibility for the deaths of demonstrators, saying there was no evidence that those who killed them were police. The court sufficed with convicting the political symbols, former president Mubarak and his interior minister Habib al-Adli, for their failure to prevent the killing of demonstrators by “unknown elements.” On 13 January 2013, the Court of Cassation overturned the judgment and ordered a retrial.

The cases of demonstrators killed in front of police stations also illustrate the Public Prosecution and judiciary’s intent to help police elude punishment. Of the 135 defendants to stand trial in 29 cases, 115 were acquitted while only 20 were convicted, five of them in absentia. Of the 20, 13 were given a suspended sentence of one year in prison, meaning currently only two defendants are serving time—five years imprisonment following convictions for killing demonstrators in al-Zawiya al-Hamra and Nasr City.

On 22 November 2012, the Law Protecting the Gains of the Revolution was issued by President Mohamed Morsy,[2] portrayed as a means to guarantee the retrial of former regime members and the killers of revolutionaries, but the law establishes no instrument to guarantee this. The talk of retrials is merely a cover to distract from the fact that the law establishes a special prosecutorial office with permanent exceptional authorities whose members are chosen by the Public Prosecutor, himself chosen unilaterally by the President. The prerogatives of the Revolution Protection Prosecution are largely limited to crimes connected to demonstrations, strikes, sit-ins, obstruction of traffic and publication crimes, which are related to the exercise of rights and liberties protected by international conventions and cannot be criminalized. In essence, the law means that any demonstrator, worker or other concerned party arrested in the future falls within the purview of the Revolution Protection Prosecution. After that prosecutorial office questions the arrestee, he will be referred to trial in special circuits whose members are chosen by the justice minister.


III. Recommendations

  • Pass legislative amendments that guarantee the independence of the Public Prosecution including: provisions for the appointment of the public prosecutor for a specific, non-renewable term; provisions seperating the charging authority from the investigating authority; and provisions granting investigating authority to investigating judges, while preserving the Public Prosecution as the charging authority only.

  • Establish an independent commission to investigate all cases of death and serious injury caused by police personnel. The commission should be composed of independent members of state judicial, executive and legislative bodies, who will investigate these cases to establish the legality of the use of violence. The commission should have full investigative prerogatives and will cooperate with the Public Prosecution in the event a criminal investigation is warranted.

  • Permit representatives of civil society to visit detention facilities to document observance of detainees’ rights.

  • Establish an independent commission to monitor detention facilities, to perform announced and unannounced visits of the facilities in order to survey detainees’ conditions and offer recommendations to the competent bodies with the purpose of preventing torture and ill treatment. The commission should have the authority to access all detention facilities and meet with any person and have the right to conduct private interviews without the presence of witnesses. The commission should also possess the authority to obtain all information necessary to its work, including prison records, schedules and data, medical records and disciplinary records.

  • Amend the laws regulating the use of force and firearms by police to ensure the standards of proportionality, necessity and legitimacy in the use of force, and to disallow the use of firearms except in cases of urgent necessity, when they are the sole means to prevent an imminent danger of death or serious injury.

  • Amend the definition of torture to comply with the International Convention Against Torture, ratified by Egypt.

  • Publish the findings of the report of the fact-finding commission established by President Morsy and establish a follow-up committee to investigate the findings of the commission and implement its recommendations.

[1] Article 134 of the Code of Criminal Procedure 150/1950.

[2] Law 96/2012.