Egyptian rights group on the public response to the death of Khaled Said in police custody
As the trial against two police officers accused of beating to death 28 year old Khaled Said resumes, Freedom from Torture talks to the Egypt based El-Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence about its' work with the victim's family and the public reaction to his death.
Following Khaled Said's death, crowds have taken to the streets in Egypt to campaign against torture and police brutality, supported by activists around the world. Like Freedom from Torture, the El-Nadim Center is a member of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT).
Q. Tell us about El-Nadim Center and how it became involved in the case of Khaled Said?
We were aware of Khaled Said's case but became actively involved when his family contacted us through our hotline two days after his death. Mohamed Abdel Aziz, our lawyer at El-Nadim, met the family and their lawyer at the time and shortly after, they submitted a complaint to the prosecutor about what happened to Khaled, contacted the media and released shocking pictures of his unrecognisable bloody and battered face.
El-Nadim Center is the only organisation in Egypt that offers psychiatric rehabilitation, medical documentation and clinical referral to survivors of torture. It was established in 1993 and quickly expanded its remit a year later to include campaigning when it realised that torture was widespread and reached levels that no one could stay silent about. About two years ago, the center started offering legal aid as an essential component of the overall process of rehabilitation.
Q. Why was Khaled Said targeted by the police? What happened?
Witnesses say that on the night of Sunday 6th June, Khaled was at an internet café in the district of Cleopatra in Alexandria, when two plain clothes police officers entered the café and started questioning people. They tried to search Khaled but he would not allow them to and asked for a reason for the search. At this, witnesses say that the two policemen started beating him. They were said to be very violent and smashed his head into a marble shelf in the café and into an iron door outside the café. Witnesses say they heard Khaled cry for help and shout that he was dying.
There is a story circulating online that Khaled was uploading, or trying to upload, a video apparently showing policemen distributing seized drugs between themselves - the video is poor quality and was shot using a mobile phone. Khaled's family deny that the policemen knew about this video; however one of the policemen accused of killing him was in the video, which is now on YouTube.
The police, including the Ministry of Interior, claim that upon seeing the two policemen, Khaled swallowed a small bag of drugs which made him choke to death. They deny hitting him and instead say that his injuries were sustained after he fell from the ambulance stretcher.
The official forensic reports confirmed the police account of the story. The first report was carried out immediately after his death and the second one, ten days later at the request of the family. Neither reports were independent (see below).
Q. Demonstrations took place in cities throughout Egypt including Cairo and Alexandria after the public reacted in outrage. How important has the public reaction been in keeping this case in the public eye?
One of the reasons that the public reaction has been so strong was that people could see what had happened to Khaled from the pictures that were circulating all over the internet - they could see what he looked like before and after his death. This isn't the first time that the issue of torture gathered so much public interest in Egypt. In 2006, Emad El-Kabir, a minibus driver from Cairo, was sodomised with a wooden stick by an officer who filmed the torture on his phone and threatened to distribute the film to humiliate him. But this is the first time that people have taken to the streets to such extent. There have been thirteen protests in the three months since Khaled Said's death in different cities worldwide - that's remarkable. Ironically, the police met the protesters in Egypt with brutality and it was all caught on camera and video.
Our lawyer says, "This case opened the issue of torture and the problems faced by the victims and their families to the general public. It also opened up a discussion over the emergency laws that have been in place in Egypt since 1981. The response was overwhelming and included everyone from all social classes."
The Department of Media and Public Relations at the Ministry of Interior issued a statement denying the testimonies of eyewitnesses as well as reports by human rights organisations about the killing of Khaled. They said the statements were inaccurate, flagrantly false and crossed the line into dissemination of lies. It's not common for the Ministry of Interior to comment on a case of torture. Their statement was full of lies, insensitive to Khaled and his family and included prejudgements. It even had a challenging tone.
Many Egyptian youths identified with Khaled Said. He was a young man with no political affiliations or criminal record. He was simply on the internet, like so many other young people who visit internet cafes and link together. He could have been any one of them.
Q. El-Nadim Center has criticised the standards of the two autopsies carried out saying that they do not meet the minimum international standards for forensic autopsies, whilst some human rights organisations have expressed concern that witnesses in the trial could face harassment in attempt to prevent them from giving evidence. What does this mean in terms of fair trial guarantees and access to justice?
The prosecution agreed to the family's request to exhume Khaled's body and carry out a second autopsy. They also allowed us to request certain investigations that had previously not been carried out for the second autopsy. Although the second was carried out by different forensic specialists, they were not independent and were appointed by the forensic authority which belongs to the Ministry of Justice - an independent forensic expert was not allowed.
The report confirmed the findings of the first autopsy. El-Nadim, with help from the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), sent both reports to a forensic specialist in Denmark who said that the reports were inadequate, contained numerous deficiencies and that it was impossible to reach a definite diagnosis to determine Khaled's cause of death using these reports "
Find out more about the trial on the 25 September at: