EGYPT: Police accused of beating Khaled Saied to death appear in court
Two police officers accused of unlawful arrest and excessive force in the death of 28-year-old blogger Khaled Saied last month had their first court hearing on Tuesday in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.
Mahmoud Salah and Awad Ismail Suleiman, who witnesses claim beat Saied to death on June 6, appeared before Judge Mousa Nahrawi. The hearing unfolded amid calls from Saied's lawyers, family members and human rights organizations for the court to upgrade the charges to murder.
The case, which has sparked anger and demonstrations across the country, has highlighted Egypt's long-criticized atmosphere of police torture and abuse. Scores of security officers and at least 10 police trucks Tuesday cordoned off the courthouse, where about 40 activists carrying banners and blaming the Ministry of Interior for Saied's death awaited news from the hearing.
Not much happened. Judge Nahrawi adjourned the hearing until Sept. 25, adding that Salah and Suleiman would remain in custody. The pair faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty. The state alleges that Saied choked to death after swallowing a bag of drugs.
Amnesty International has called for the protection of witnesses involved in the case after accusations that one of Saied's friends was beaten and intimidated by nine attackers last week. The fury around Saied's death intensified after witnesses and human rights organizations alleged that two undercover officers captured him in an Internet café before beating him to death at the entrance of a nearby building in Alexandria.
"For far too long, some police officers and security officials in Egypt have acted as if they believe themselves to be above the law, which has bred a culture of injustice and impunity," Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa programs, said in a statement on Monday.
Photos of Saied's beaten face and body spread across social networking websites over the last few weeks. It is rare in Egypt for police officers to be brought to trial, and rarer still for them to be convicted of crimes. But the ruling National Democratic Party, which controls the government, is under growing pressure from activists who have turned the death into a nationwide movement against brutality.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: A demonstrator carrying Khaled Saied's photo. Credit: Agence France-Presse