(Cairo, March 2, 2013) – The newly appointed investigative judge looking into the January violence in Port Said should fully examine police responsibility for unlawful killings during the episode, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), the Alkarama Foundation, and Human Rights Watch said today. Forty-two people, including two police officers, died after a court, on January 26, 2013, recommended sentencing 21 Port Said residents to death for killings after a soccer match a year earlier. The confirmation of this sentence and verdict against the remaining 52 defendants is scheduled for March 9.
Evidence gathered by the four groups indicates that the police began shooting when they came under fire on January 26, but continued shooting after the threat against them receded, killing and wounding a number of protestors and bystanders. The police also used lethal fire on the following two days, when the threat to life was unclear at best. After days of mass protests in Port Said over the killing of the protesters, Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki on February 18 appointed an investigative judge, Abdel Aziz Shaheen, to look into the incident. No charges have been brought against any police officer.
“President Mohamed Morsy should publicly acknowledge that the police’s right to use lethal force is not unlimited, even when they come under attack, and order the police to limit any use of force to what is strictly necessary,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A lack of police reform, Mubarak-era laws that effectively give the police a free hand to use lethal force, and the lack of accountability mean we are seeing this kind of excessive response again and again.”
Unlawful lethal force by police has been a longstanding problem in Egypt as a result of Mubarak-era laws that allow the police wide discretion to use lethal force and firearms without creating any mechanism to hold them accountable when they abuse those powers.
The initial investigation by Port Said prosecutors was marred by procedural violations, including arbitrary detention and reports of torture, the organizations said. Prosecutors only started investigating the incident on January 29. The three-day delay handicapped the investigation from the start since prosecutors did not visit the scene or oversee autopsies. Most ominously, prosecutors failed to summon a single police officer for interrogation in connection with the police response, interrogating only the 36 residents arrested so far on charges of possession and use of firearms.
Researchers from the four groups visited Port Said for three days beginning on January 27, collecting witness evidence, visiting hospitals, and interviewing medical staff, forensic experts, the injured, and victims’ families. They also visited the sites of the shootings, reviewed video footage, and obtained autopsy reports and death certificates.
The picture that emerged suggests that up to seven unidentified men opened fire on police outside the Port Said prison on January 26. They opened fire shortly after a judge sentenced 21 local people to death at 10 a.m. after convicting them of responsibility for killings at a soccer stadium on February 1, 2012. The gunmen, some of whom used automatic weapons, killed two police officers and wounded 10 others in what the Interior Ministry claimed was an aborted prison break. It has not provided evidence to support this theory, however, and the account by witnesses the organizations interviewed does not support the ministry’s version. Police on the prison roof and grounds shot live ammunition, and by the end of the morning, the death toll stood at 28 – the two police officers and 26 people outside the prison.
Witnesses confirmed that the police continued to fire at people in the vicinity of the prison for up to an hour after the fire directed toward the police stopped, causing a number of deaths and injuries. At least five witnesses told the organizations that they saw police armored vehicles moving through streets far away from the prison, with police inside firing indiscriminately at bystanders, causing deaths and injuries… to continueclick here.