"The brutal beating of both men and women protesters shows that military officers have no sense of limits on what they can do," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for the human rights organization said in a statement over the weekend. "The official law enforcement authorities may arrest people where there is evidence of wrongdoing, but it never has the right to beat and torture them."
A peaceful sit-in near near the ministry in the neighborhood of Abbasiya in downtown Cairo turned violent May 4 when protesters and military police hurled stones at one another. The sit-in, called by scores of Islamists angry at the ouster of Salafi presidential hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail from the presidential race, attracted several thousand sympathizers after unidentified thugs killed 11 protesters two days earlier.
Military police dispersed the crowd with tear gas, water cannons and blank gunshots. One soldier was killed and and 350 people were arrested, including a number of journalists. The military had warned of a crackdown if protesters continued to gather outside the ministry and in a nearby square.
Army officers "beat us with sticks, kicked us and punched us. At one point there were around 10 or 15 of them beating me," Adel Khattab, one of the released protesters, told Human Rights Watch. "My head was bleeding and my clothes were torn by the time they brought me after that to a military prosecutor. Then they moved us to Tora prison. When we arrived there, we were given a 'reception party' where three plainclothes prison officials beat us and whipped us with hoses."
The accusations echo similar charges against the military and security forces after arrests during demonstrations that have erupted since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak last year. Human Rights Watch said its report was based on accounts of many protesters who were released.
The military, which had the support of many Egyptians in breaking up the protest, has not publicly responded to the report.
-- Amro Hassan
Photo: Egyptian protesters and military police clash near the Defense Ministry on May, 4. Credit: Khaled Elfiqi / EPA