Young man tortured to death in Muqattam police station: locals and neighbours pay the price of bringing accountability to the police

Press Release

13 February 2018

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights condemns attempts to intimidate the family and those who have acted in solidarity with the family of 22-year-old Muqattam victim Mohammed Abd al-Hakim Mahmoud, known as Afrotto, in order to influence the course of a criminal case. Afrotto was killed in a cell inside Muqattam police station on Saturday, January 6. Muqattam residents should not be punished for demanding accountability for those responsible for Afrotto’s death.

The EIPR has followed the recurring raids and arrest campaigns carried out against Masaken Al-Muqattam residents in connection with the case. More than 100 of Afrotto’s neighbors have been arbitrarily arrested, including many who were not present at the scene of the original incident.

On February 7, the detention of 92 people was renewed for the third time in a hearing that lasted for barely five minutes. According to the defendants’ lawyers, the judge considering the remand renewal did not see any of the defendants. He permitted only two of the lawyers to speak during the hearing before ordering the 92 defendants detained for an additional 15 days. Nine of the defendants held in connection with the case appealed the latest detention order. In a hearing of the appeal on February 12, the South Cairo Court ordered the release of all nine on bail of LE5,000 each.

The case concerns allegations of illegal assembly and assault on police officers and facilities on January 6, when local residents learned that Afrotto had died while in police custody in the Muqattam station. A police force from Muqattam precinct had arrested him and others on the street, beating them and taking them to the station. Following the news, several area residents gathered outside the Muqattam Specialized Hospital, where police had taken Afrotto’s body. Police on the scene attempted to persuade the residents at the hospital that his death was unrelated to his arrest and treatment at the station, saying that after he had experienced a sharp pain in the stomach, police had taken him to the hospital, where he died.1 Subsequent statements from Interior Ministry officials attributed his death to the ingestion of a large quantity of drugs, but the death certificate confirmed the cause of death as internal abdominal bleeding and a ruptured spleen.2

The news of Afrotto’s death resulted in scuffles outside the hospital, which is adjacent to the Muqattam police station. Police arrested several people gathered outside the hospital to claim the body and demand accountability for those who caused Afrotto’s death inside the police station. In subsequent weeks, police carried out several sweeps, arbitrarily arresting more than 100 people. The families of some of the arrested people described the circumstances of the arrests to EIPR. The arrested persons were charged in case no. 88/2018/Muqattam station administrative, in which an officer and junior policeman from the station were referred to criminal trial on charges of assault resulting in death. Various manufactured charges were brought against the dozens of arrested people, including assembly, assault of police forces, and attempting to steal the victim’s body.

According to families of the arrested persons, more than 140 area residents were arrested and are now being held at the Tora and May 15 prisons. The EIPR has confirmed 92 arrests, but has thus far been unable to ascertain a total number. The defendants were collectively brought before the arraigning judge on Wednesday, February 7, who renewed their detention in a five-minute hearing.

The EIPR demands the release of all the detainees given the lack of grounds for pretrial detention and dropping the false and manufactured charges against them in case no. 88/2018/Muqattam station administrative. The EIPR’s documentation of these cases, as well as video footage and witness accounts, reveal an unprecedented level of arbitrary abuse of local residents who expressed solidarity with the family of the victim. While such practices are common in cases in which the Public Prosecution seeks criminal accountability for police, and are typically undertaken to pressure the victim’s family and supporters, the number of arrests made in this case—over 100—is unprecedented in this context. As such, the only objective of continued pretrial detention is to harass and collectively punish area residents.

Select statements from families of the arrested persons

Ibrahim Mohammed Ahmed, the brother of Mustafa Mohammed, a 23-year-old housepainter who was arrested the day of Afrotto’s death, said that on the day of his death, the victim’s family and several neighbours headed to the Muqattam Specialized Hospital, located a short distance from their homes. They were angry after hearing news that Afrotto had been beaten and tortured to death on the street and in the police station. Ibrahim said that his brother and others rescued a police officer at the hospital from the crowd, which was taking out its anger on him when the body was brought out, then returned to the home of the victim’s family. After returning to Afrotto’s home, located in the Muqattam housing project, Mustafa and another friend of the victim, Bilal, volunteered to go find some slabs of ice for the dead body, but they did not return. Ibrahim later learned that they were arrested while on a motorbike on a El Togary street looking for ice.

The arrested persons and their families have been met with abuse and undue punishment in their treatment as detainees. Their families and the victim’s family believe the police are attempting to use them as leverage to pressure area residents who support Afrotto’s family to forgo their claim against the police personnel charged in the case. Ibrahim described how the arrestees have been treated:

A woman who works at a kiosk saw them being arrested on El Togary street. We went to the police station, but found nothing. We didn’t know where they were until a stranger called us to tell me my brother was in the Tora police station. The days after the arrest, we didn’t try to go to Tora because other families who have tried hadn’t been able to get in or give [their detained relatives] anything. The first hearing was four days later, so we went to the Police NCOs Academy, where the hearing was but we weren’t able to see them there either. We went to the Zeinhom Prosecution too, but we didn’t see them. We weren’t able to see them at the second hearing—they stopped us from entering the court. The [police] vehicles were going inside the courthouse as the decision was delivered. Since we couldn’t see them, we gave the food to the soldiers [to give to the arrestees], but we learned it never reached them. After the second detention hearing, we got a phone call saying he’d been moved to the May 15 Prison. I was only able to see him on a visit to the prison. Psychologically, he was in very bad shape. We don’t even know why they were arrested, and they were beaten at the station and in the May 15 Prison. My father died from the shock.

(Mustafa Mohammed Ahmed’s father died a few days before the last remand hearing.)

The EIPR met with the wife of Mohammed Abd al-Megid Mahaysan, 39, the owner of a local event design workshop (a workshop that provides seating and other requirements for weddings and funerals) and one of the people arbitrarily arrested in the subsequent campaign about two weeks after the original incident, on January 18. She said:

The day of the death, the chief detective called my husband, he knows him from work. He asked him if he knew Afrotto, and my husband told him he was like a son to him. He said he had died and asked my husband to notify the family. My husband spoke to Afrotto’s mother, and we went downstairs to my husband’s shop. There was a police officer there and he told her your son’s dead. The only thing my husband did was to drive Afrotto’s family to the hospital and stay with them there. Then he organized the wake—he has a workshop that does that—at no cost of course. He was taken on January 18. The police called him and told him to come to a meeting to be held between the ferasha workshop managers and the CJ department, which happens every so often. He went to the meeting, and all the workshop owners came out but him. I kept calling him, but his phone was turned off. Finally, the shop workers came and told me, the boss’s been put in jail on an arrest warrant in the Afrotto case! Then he was moved to the 15th of May Prison. The only thing my husband did was stand with Afrotto’s family, put on the wake, and take them to the hospital. And he’s a sick man, he has diabetes and a hernia.

Mahmoud Abd al-Hakim, the victim’s brother, described the arrest of a worker at Mohammed Abd al-Megid Mahaysan’s shop, a story confirmed by Ibrahim Mohammed:

Sami was arrested at home while he was literally in the shower. He lives in the basement in the projects (lower-income housing), he’s a poor guy. That day the police came to the coffee shop and wanted to arrest two people sitting there. The Ferasha workshop men stood up and told them they were family of the deceased and had come from other governorates for the wake. And their ID cards said they were from other governorates. So the police went up to the rooms and started arbitrarily arresting anyone they could find. They went to Sami’s house/room and arrested him in the shower. They also went to Ali Abd al-Hamid’s house on the ground floor, in the basement. They broke down the wooden door to his apartment and arrested him.

Ibrahim Mohammed said that while visiting his Mustafa in May 15 Prison, after two weeks of not being able to see him, he saw among the arrestees peddlers from the market near Afrotto’s house. Ibrahim said they had no connection with the case and were not present at the hospital on the day of the original incident; they are not even friends or acquaintances of the victim’s family. Ibrahim also said one of the people arrested was a conscript at the Interior Ministry, who was back at the Muqattam housing project on leave when he was arbitrarily arrested. The EIPR also viewed footage taken from a surveillance camera3 in a milk shop located at the intersection with Road 9, that separates the police station from the Muqattam Specialized Hospital. The footage shows the police storming the shop and assaulting and arbitrarily arresting the shop owner and two people who happened to be on the premises.