Against the backdrop of a land dispute on Qursaya Island: At Least Three Dead, Several Injured by Military Police and 25 Detained by Military Prosecutor
Three Egyptian rights organizations strongly condemned today the crimes committed by Military Police forces against residents of Qursaya Island, located in the governor ate of Giza, at dawn on Sunday, 18 November, which left at least three civilians dead and more than five others wounded. The three groupsthe Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights and the Nadim Centerstressed the need to appoint civilian judges to investigate these crimes and prosecute the Military Police officials and personnel responsible before a civilian court.
At 4 am on 18 November, army forces stormed Qursaya, an island in the Nile River, with navy skiffs, attacking local residents sleeping in shacks on a plot of land on the island; the army claims it owns the land and says the residents are living there illegally. Military Police used firearms, birdshot and excessive force against the local residents, destroyed property and set fire to several fishing boats owned by the island residents, before arresting 25 civilians. Security sources said that three civilians were killed; the only body identified thus far is that of Mohamed Abd al-Mawgoud Ahmed, age 20.
According to the burial certificate of Mohamed Abd al-Mawgoud, a copy of which was obtained by the organizations, the cause of death was “a gunshot wound in the pelvis and a subsequent arterial injury, tearing of the bladder and traumatic hemorrhage.” Members of the victim’s family and other eyewitnesses said that the Military Police shot the victim’s arm while he was fleeing from the raid; he either jumped or fell into the Nile, but the Military Police continued to fire at him, hitting him with another bullet that caused his death.
According to the testimony of B.A., who witnessed the raid:
“At about 4:30 am, I was sitting in a shack on the river while by brother, Yasser Ali, was sleeping next to me. I heard gunfire. When they [Military Police] first landed, they were shooting and yelling, ‘God is great.’ I started waking up my brother, but by the time he was awake, they had entered the shack and were beating us. I tore through the reeds of the shack and set out running. My brother was arrested. When I got outside the hut, I found my cousin and Mohamed Abd al-Mawgoud [the victim] running, so I ran with them and we jumped in the water, me and my cousin. Mohamed was getting in slowly because he had taken a bullet in his arm and they shot at him again. We swam until we were far from the gunfire. The officers were shooting, but the soldiers had cattle prods and leather batons.”
In a similar, more detailed testimony, M.G., who was injured with birdshot in the neck under his right ear, said:
“We were sitting around and everything was fine. After the dawn prayer, we saw a launch, one of those boats that carries like 1,000 soldiers. A huge number of soldiers got out of it, hundreds, maybe a thousand. It was dark and everything happened so fast. We were afraid. I saw the soldiers carrying cattle prods, and I heard gunfire and saw some 200 of them carrying automatic weapons and firing live ammunition. I was injured with birdshot, but Mohamed Abduh [name used by Mohamed Abd al-Mawgoud among locals] died from a live bullet. At first, I stood and tried to talk to themto talk to them so there wouldn’t be any casualties. At that time there was one colonel, but then they started shooting continuously and there was no discussion. I ran and everyone tried to jump in the water. The army started pouring gasoline on the boats and set them on fire. Even people who didn’t know how to swim jumped in the water. They were shooting at people while they were in the water. I jumped in too of course. I was afraid I’d dieI’ve got two daughters, Jannat and Hager, and I wanted to see them at least before I died. Before I could jump, I was hit by birdshot pellet under my right ear. When I jumped, I didn’t want to kick with my legs because they were shooting into the water, so I tried to swim underwater without a sound, like an eel. I’m a fisherman and I know how to swim underwater. Mohamed Abduh was next to me, and I saw him get shot in his leg. He went down in the water and was still holding on to land then he took another bullet and went under. The Interior Ministry skiffs are the ones that pulled his and the other bodies out and turned them over to the morgue. They say the army didn’t want them to pull the bodies out of the water. This all lasted 15 to 30 minutes at the most. When we crossed to the other side of the island, they didn’t chase us.”
The statements of all eyewitnesses agreed that Military Police forces continued to shoot at island residents even after they attempted to escape by jumping in the Nile. Forces also stormed the home of Ahmed Badawi, the closest to the disputed plot of land, and Military Police broke furniture, stole livestock and arrested seven workers in the house and farm. Several other local residents were also arrested, and all of them25 individualswere referred to the Military Prosecution. After local residents were questioned, accompanied by attorneys from the rights groups, the Military Prosecution remanded them all for 15 days pending an investigation into case no. 261/2012/Felonies/East/Military on charges of assaulting public servants in the course of duty, encroaching on army-owned property and being present in a military zone.
The rights lawyers who attended the questioning of those arrested said that most of them exhibited clear bruising and some had difficulty walking, a result of beatings during or after arrest. A statement issued by the spokesperson for the armed forces said that of the ten people injured during the assault, five were soldiers, but the statement did not reveal their names or the nature or cause of their injuries.
After the attack, island residents cut off al-Bahr al-Aazam Street near the island; the police intervened to disperse the sit-in and broker negotiations between army forces and locals on the current situation. The negotiations failed, and the road remained closed until 8 pm, 18 November, until former MP Gamal al-Ishri (Freedom and Justice Party) interceded and arranged a meeting between representatives of the island residents and the army chief of the Central Military Command the afternoon of the following day, 19 November. Based on this agreement, the residents opened the road and returned to the island.
The three organizations added that they sent a lawyer to the South Giza Prosecution the day of the attacks to file a complaint and a request to hear witnesses to the killing of Mohamed Abd al-Mawgoud (no. 8999/2012/Administrative/Giza Station), but prosecutor Mustafa Omar rejected the request, saying that the party with jurisdiction over the investigation first had to be settled since the Military Prosecution had asked to assume investigations, arguing that the disputed land was “a military barracks.” The next day, the media reported that the South Giza Prosecution had referred the case to the Military Prosecution.
The three rights organizations said that the Military Police’s involvement in the crimes and the military judiciary’s record of colluding against civilian victims in favor of military defendants throughout the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces clearly indicates that the Military Prosecution will not be an impartial body investigating these crimes. This was obvious in the prosecution’s decision to remand civilian defendants who had been attacked, injured and beaten.
The organizations also fear that the detained civilians will be prosecuted in an expedited military trial in order to obtain a military conviction against them that can be used in the future as proof of the armed forces’ ownership of the disputed land.
The island of Qursaya is officially designated a natural protectorate under Prime Ministerial Decree 1969/1998, which considers Nile islands in the northern, central and southern river valley, the Delta barrages, and the Rosetta and Damietta tributaries to be nature preserves subject to Law 102/1983 on Natural Protectorates. Qursaya is listed as number 92 on the list accompanying that decree, which states that its surface area is 117.5 feddans with business activities consisting of “traditional agriculture and tourist buildings and facilities”; it is described as state-owned land and home to 1,500 residents. The text indicates that the local farmers’ agricultural activitywhich is documented in the prime ministerial decree and the attached listwas one reason Qursaya was considered a protectorate. In addition, island residents won a court ruling from the Court of Administrative Justice in 2008 (case no. 782/62), upheld by the Supreme Administrative Court in 2010 (appeals no. 5730 and 6585/55/Supreme), stating that the government was obliged to renew the residents’ leases and uphold the usufruct rights of the island residents, as they have a legal right to live on the island and farm it.
Local residents said that the armed forces took over a 5-feddan plot of Nile-side land on the island in 2007 then withdrew from it after the revolution in early 2011, prompting residents to use the land for residence and farming. On Friday, 16 November 2012, an army colonel came to the island with some 500 soldiers and met with local residents. The army personnel reviewed all the documents in the residents’ possession and obtained copies of them then left without asking the residents to evacuate the land. Every person interviewed by representatives of the three organizations agreed that the dawn attacks were not preceded by any warning or even request from the army that the locals leave the land.
One island resident said, “This land is ours, but the army took it over before the revolution, planted sugarcane on it and then left it. So we took it over instead of someone else from outside the island. It’s our land! If there had been talks with the army, we would understand, but there was no discussion, they just came in striking. I can’t leave here. Where would I go? I’ll only leave here dead.”
• Copy of the burial permit for Mohamed Abd al-Mawgoud Ahmed, issued by the Zeinhom Health Ministry office.
• Prime Ministerial Decree 1969/1998 on the establishment of natural protectorates, including Qursaya Island.
• Court of Administrative Justice 2008 ruling (case no. 782/62) upholding the rights of use for Qursaya Island residents.
• Supreme Administrative Court 2010 ruling (appeals no. 5730 and 6585/55/Supreme) upholding lower administrative ruling for the island residents.
List of Qurtsaya residents detained and referred to the Military Prosecution in case no. 261/2012/Felonies/East/Military:
- Gamal Ali Mustafa, 22
- Ashraf Faragallah Abd al-Megid, 35
- Mahmoud Abd al-Moati Mahmoud, 57
- Mustafa Ali Eissa, 23
- Yasser Ali Ahmed, 40
- Samir Hassan Selim, 50
- Abd al-Moati Ahmed Abd al-Moati, 31
- Saber Abduh Hassan, 38
- Hassan Shehata Saleh, 27
- Adel Mohamed Kheiri, 33
- Maher Youssef Ibrahim, 50
- Taher Samara Mohamed Ahmed, 27
- Khaled Amr Suleiman Salem, 35
- Hassan Shaaban Salem, 25
- Abd al-Rahman Abd al-Moati Mahmoud, 53
- Sami Shehata Saleh, 34
- Hani Ishri Rafai, 36
- Salem Shehata Saleh, 38
- Mohamed Abdullah Mohamed, 24
- Ibrahim Ali Younes, 29
- Essam Ali Mohamed, 29
- Ahmed Mohamed Abd al-Alim, 31
- Mahmoud Shaaban Salem, 34
- Mohamed Rabia Metwalli Awad, 29
- Omar Mohamed Hassanein, 18