Human rights groups demand accountability for Port Said police killings

Egyptian and international human rights NGOs said in a statement Saturday that President Mohamed Morsy and the Public Prosecution are turning a blind eye to police killings in Port Said governorate during protests over the Port Said football violence trial verdict. 

Forty-two people, including two police officers, died after a court sentenced 21 Port Said residents to death on 26 January for the murders of 72 people after a football match a year earlier. The confirmation of the death, as well as the verdict against the remaining 52 defendants, is scheduled for 9 March.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Alkarama Foundation and the US-based Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement that their conclusions were based on a three day research trip to the governorate starting 27 January.

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 clashes on 29 January. 

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, the groups added.

The groups also said that neither the Interior Ministry nor the president has admitted any wrongdoing on the part of the police in Port Said. On the contrary, in his January 27 speech, the president thanked the police and instructed them to respond with “the utmost firmness and strength” to any insecurity and violence, but made no mention of ensuring an investigation into charges of brutality.

According to the NGOs’ account of the incidents, as many as seven unidentified men opened fire on police outside the Port Said prison on 26 January, shortly after the death sentence was handed down at 10 am.

Two police officers were killed and 10 others were wounded in the shooting, and police responded with live ammunition from the prison’s roof and the surrounding grounds. By the end of the morning, 26 more people were dead.

Witnesses told the groups 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 ceased, causing a number of deaths and injuries.

At least five witnesses told the organizations that they saw police armored vehicles driving through streets far away from the prison, with police inside firing indiscriminately at bystanders, causing deaths and injuries.

“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.

The groups ended the statement by demanding Egyptian authorities ensure an independent and impartial investigation into the events in Port Said and that anyone against whom evidence is found of any crimes, including unlawful killings or use of force, is put on trial, the groups said.

In the statement, the groups also said that security officials who ordered or encouraged the violent response or failed to exercise proper control over their subordinates should be investigated, and that victims of the violence should be adequately compensated.

Additionally, the groups also recommended reform of the Central Security Forces and the amendment of the judicial authority law to ensure the Public Prosecution’s full independence.

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