Victim’s lawyers in Egypt police brutality case call for harsher charges

By Nasser Nasser, AP
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

2 Egyptian policemen go on trial for brutality

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — The victim’s lawyers in a trial of two Egyptian policemen involved in the death of a young man demanded Tuesday that the defendants face torture charges in a case that has focused national attention on police brutality in Egypt.

Khaled Said died on June 6 and witnesses say the two policemen dragged him out of an Internet cafe in the northern port city of Alexandria and beat him to death. Two state autopsies, however, insisted Said died of suffocation after swallowing a packet of drugs.

After a public outcry, prosecutors charged plainclothes policemen Mahmoud Salah and Awad Ismail Suleiman with illegal arrest and harsh treatment — falling far short of demands by the victim’s family for a murder charge.

“There is a big difference between the two,” said Hafez Abu Saada, one of the lawyers for the victims, referring to a torture charge rather than just one for harsh treatment. “Torture leading to death has a death sentence.”

In Egyptian criminal courts, victims’ lawyers have a role in the trial along side that of the prosecutor in making the case to the judges. On Tuesday, Said’s lawyers asked to present witnesses prompting the judge to adjourn the trial until Sept. 25.

The two defendants appeared in court wearing white prison uniforms, and stood in the defendants’ cage, surrounded by guards in the packed courtroom.

As the trial started, hundreds of riot police cordoned off the court building while dozens of human rights activists protested outside, waving pictures of Said.

“Rest in peace Said, your life will not go unavenged,” protesters chanted.

Police used their batons to keep the crowd at bay and scuffled with the protesters but there was no significant violence.

The defendants’ families held a parallel rally nearby to denounce the activists’ campaigning in defense of a “drug dealer,” as Said has been portrayed in the state-owned press.

Amnesty International on Monday expressed concern that witnesses in the trial could be harassed and urged the government to ensure their safety. The London-based watchdog said one of Said’s friends, Khaled Mohammed, had been attacked a week ago by nine people brandishing knives.

Rights groups have long said that Egyptian police regularly abuse and torture people in detention and are rarely held accountable, a claim denied by the government. Security forces have wide powers of arbitrary arrest under Emergency Law, in place since President Hosni Mubarak came to power. The government says the law is necessary to fight terrorism but activists maintain it is a foundation for an autocratic regime.

Over the past month, pictures of the dead Said’s disfigured and bloodied face circulated on the Internet and were carried by protesters at anti-government demonstrations that swept through Cairo and Alexandria. The U.S. State Department called for a transparent investigation.

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