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Amnesty International to Egypt: Stop 'bloody' legacy of repression

October 2, 2012 |  9:17 am

Maspero
CAIRO -- Amnesty International sent a letter Tuesday to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi urging him to stem the “bloody” legacy of state repression highlighted in two reports that detail killings, torture and sexual assaults that have shaken the nation since last year's uprising.

Egypt's new leader must pave the way for reforms in order to ensure accountability and transparency from the army and police, the group said, blaming security forces for atrocities against demonstrators over the past 20 months.

The first report, "Brutality Unpunished and Unchecked: Egypt’s Military Kills and Tortures Protesters with Impunity," described the killings of protesters by a military acting "above the law" during the army's hold on the government that ended when Morsi forced the resignations of top commanders in August.

The human rights group's research on military abuse examined the deaths of 27 mainly Coptic Christian protesters killed outside Maspero, the state’s television headquarters, in October 2011.  It also focused on the deaths of 17 protesters outside Egypt's Cabinet in December 2011, as well as the May 2012 Abbaseya sit-in near the Defense Ministry in Cairo where 12 people were killed.

Amnesty International found that protesters were severely beaten, sexually threatened and struck by live ammunition.

“Unless the soldiers responsible for killing, maiming and abusing protesters are put on trial in front of an independent, civilian court, there is no hope that the victims will see justice or that soldiers will fear punishment if they repeat such crimes,” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said in a news statement.

Demands for police reforms and wider civil rights were among the rallying points that led to the revolution that forced former President Hosni Mubarak from power in February 2011.

Egyptian activists have repeatedly called on Morsi to retry police officers accused of killing hundreds of citizens during peaceful protests. Human rights groups have also asked the new president to put on trial Field Marshal Mohamed Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Egypt's military leaders for the deaths of protesters.

While the military was in power, human rights groups reported at least 15,000 civilians, including minors, were subjected to military tribunals. Female protesters were also reportedly singled out for sexual abuse, according to Amnesty International. 

"Military tribunals included people who were simply protesting peacefully. Those are considered prisoners of conscience and must be released immediately," Mohamed Lotfy, a researcher with the rights group, told The Times.

Although Morsi vowed to set up a committee in July to investigate the killings and abuses that took place under military rule, Amnesty International said the committee was given little time to gather its findings, access information and summon witnesses. 

Amnesty International’s second report highlighted the "total impunity" wielded by the country's three main police forces: the Central Security Forces, known as riot police; the State Security Investigation Service, which was purportedly abolished after the uprising; and the General Investigations Police, or the national police force.

Amnesty said shotgun ammunition and tear gas were among U.S.-made weaponry supplied to the police forces before and after the revolution. The group had earlier called for a stop on imports of tear gas small arms used by police to disperse crowds.

"The riot police have routinely responded to peaceful protests with excessive and lethal force, including disproportionate use of tear gas, beatings and arbitrary arrest. They fired shotgun pellets, rubber bullets and live ammunition into the crowds, killing, blinding and otherwise injuring demonstrators," the group said.

The interior ministers who have "headed the police force since last year’s uprising have repeatedly announced their commitment to reforming the police and respecting human rights, but so far reforms have merely scratched the surface," said Sahraoui, the group's deputy director. "Instead, they have tried to restore emergency-like legislation in the name of restoring security.”

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 -- Reem Abdellatif

Photo: An Egyptian youth hurls stones at security forces during October 2011 clashes near the television building known as Maspero in Cairo, leading to the deaths of 27 mostly Coptic Christian protesters. Amnesty International examined this and other protests in writing one of its reports on abuses by Egyptian security forces. Credit: Abdel-Hamid Eid / European Pressphoto Agency.

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