Amnesty International urges Egypt to investigate recent violence

Egyptian authorities should investigate the conduct of security forces at demonstrations, the international human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in a statement released on Thursday.

Protests that broke out on Tuesday night and continued into Wednesday were met with heavy use of tear gas, beatings, and buckshot, according to Amnesty International witnesses. Protesters returned fire with rocks and, occassionally, Molotov cocktails, the witnesses said.

“This heavy-handed response is reminiscent of the violence in January and is a chilling reminder of their inability to deal with protests, ahead of calls for mass demonstrations on 8 July,” the statement said, referring to the violence that was used against protesters at the start of the 25 January revolution. “This latest incident spotlights the urgent need for reform of the security forces so Egyptians can begin to trust them.”

The rights watchdog said that the quest for "stability" shouldn’t become a pretext for suppressing protests or quashing demands for justice for the victims of violence in the 25 January uprising.

“The demonstration appears to have been triggered by the security forces’ violent dispersal of relatives of those killed during the 25 January Revolution,” Amnesty reported.

According to witnesses, the clashes began after 15 people were arrested on Tuesday night at the Balloon Theater in Agouza district, where an event was being held to commemorate those killed during the recent uprising. Those arrested were from among a group of relatives of the dead, say witnesses, although it is not clear exactly what sparked the confrontation.

After these first arrests and clashes, a group of protesters marched from Agouza to the Interior Ministry, close to Tahrir Square, where a further 20 were arrested. As these later arrests were made, protesters clashed with Central Security Forces (CSF), after which, more people joined the fight as news spread.

Egypt’s Ministry of Health said that more than 1000 people were injured in the clashes, including some 40 members of the security forces. According to medical staff and injured protesters and security forces interviewed by Amnesty International, “The protesters’ injuries included buckshot wounds to the back, arms and eyes, as well as burns and wounds caused by tear gas canisters. Security forces suffered from burns and bruises, as well as wounds to the head and legs caused by being hit with rocks.”

Earlier this week, clashes erupted between victims’ families and the CSF in front of the New Cairo Criminal Court after the trial of the former Interior Minister Habib Ibrahim el-Adly and six of his aides was postponed to 25 July.

In a statement posted on its official Facebook page, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said that the incidents come as a manifestation of plots aimed at “shaking Egypt’s security and stability.” Plotters are using “the blood of the revolution’s martyrs to drive wedges between the people and  the security establishment,” the military’s statement said.

Amnesty International interviewed the mother of one of the victims, Ahmed Zein al-Abidin, from Al-Amiria in Cairo, who was reportedly arrested during the dispersal on Tuesday. She was insulted and punched by a police officer in the Agouza police station.

Her 22-year-old son, Mohamed Zein al-Abidin, “was beaten up in the street by security forces and men in plain clothes,” and he is now facing a military prosecution, according to the report.

Amnesty International expressed concern about the possible trial before military courts of the protesters arrested during the clashes.

“Civilians should never be tried in military courts, and any protesters being held should receive a fair trial that meets international standards or be released,” Amnesty said.

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