Egyptian cafe owner says he witnessed police beating young man to death, describes scene

By Paul Schemm, AP
Sunday, June 13, 2010

Egypt cafe owner describes police beating death

CAIRO — The owner of an Egyptian Internet cafe said he witnessed police beating a young man to death and described the killing that has outraged rights activists.

The Interior Ministry has denied the allegations, claiming on Saturday that the 28-year-old was wanted by police and died after choking on a joint he swallowed when policemen sought to arrest him.

Activists say 28-year-old Khaled Said’s death is an example of rampant abuses made possible by a three-decade-old emergency law they describe as a central tool of repression by President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.

In a filmed interview posted online Sunday by a leading opposition party, cafe owner Hassan Mosbah said two police officers came into his establishment in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, dragged Khaled Said out into the street and beat him to death there. Pictures of Said’s shattered face appeared on social networking sites after his death on June 6.

“We thought they would just interrogate him or ask him questions. But they took him as he struggled with his hands behind his back and banged his head against the marble table inside here,” Mosbah said in an interview conducted by a journalist from the liberal opposition al-Ghad newspaper.

Mosbah said he told the police to take it outside and they hauled Said into the doorway of a nearby building. He did not emerge alive, said the cafe owner.

A fact-finding mission by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, confirmed the cafe owner’s account.

“They dragged him to the adjacent building and banged his head against an iron door, the steps of the staircase and walls of the building,” the Cairo-based organization said in a statement Sunday.

“Two doctors happened to be there and tried in vain to revive him but (the police) continued beating him,” the statement said, adding that Said was well regarded by his friends.

The official police statement, however, said he was a known drug user and the cause of death was suffocation from “a cigarette containing drugs” lodged in Said’s trachea. It also said he was wanted for convictions in absentia for theft and weapons possession, in addition to evading compulsory military service.

“The allegations reported by some circles have intentionally ignored all the facts in order to show that the human rights situation in the country has been violated,” said the police statement.

Soon after his death, pictures of Said’s shattered face appeared on social networking sites, outraging activists and turning into a rallying cry for Egypt’s political opposition.

About 100 protesters gathered Sunday in downtown Cairo to demand the resignation of the interior minister, who controls the police force. A large number of security personnel vigorously beat back the crowds to keep them from reaching the ministry building.

Young activists held up side-by-side photos of Said, one showing him alive and the other a grisly image after his beating. “Down with Mubarak,” demonstrators shouted.

Police arrested dozens.

Amnesty International and other rights groups on Friday demanded an independent investigation.

The “shocking pictures … are a rare, firsthand glimpse of the routine use of brutal force by the Egyptian security forces, who expect to operate in a climate of impunity, with no questions asked,” Amnesty said in a statement.

The victim’s brother, Ahmed Said, maintained that the beating was revenge for his possession of a video showing the policemen dividing the spoils of a drug bust among themselves and so they confronted him at the cafe. He said he saw his brother’s body a day after his death. His jaw was twisted, his rib cage mangled and his skull cracked, he said. Similar images were posted on bloggers’ websites and he confirmed their authenticity.

Human rights groups say police torture — including sexual abuse — is routine in Egypt, but the government denies it is systematic. Reformers say the emergency law, in place since 1981, is to blame.

Cases of police brutality rarely result in punishment.

Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef contributed to this report.

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