New York — Egypt's public prosecutor should investigate the detention and abuse of several dozen anti-government protesters in Cairo by Muslim Brotherhood members on December 5 and 6, 2012.
At least 49 protesters opposed to President Mohamed Morsy were unlawfully held outside the Ettihadiya presidential palace gate, an area then occupied by the Muslim Brotherhood and overseen by riot police, detainees and witnesses told Human Rights Watch.
The detentions followed armed clashes that resulted in the deaths of 10 people, mostly Muslim Brotherhood members, and injuries to 748 more, according to the Health Ministry.
The prosecutor should examine responsibility for the deaths and injuries to protesters, as well as the failure of security forces to intervene to protect a peaceful sit-in by anti-Morsy protesters and to stop the violence by both Morsy supporters and anti-Morsy protesters. He should also investigate Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) leaders who publicly called for their supporters to arrest anti-Morsy protesters.
A speech by Morsy on December 6 in which he referred to "confessions" of detained protesters as evidence that they were "hired thugs" raises concerns for their due process rights and suggests that the authorities were aware of the illegal detentions outside the presidential palace. The secretary of the president on foreign affairs, Eng. Khaled Al Qazzaz, told Human Rights Watch that the president was not aware of the detention of the 49 individuals at the time and that this was currently being investigated along with reported deaths and injuries.
"Instead of condemning illegal detentions and abuse right outside the presidential palace, President Morsy instead spoke out against the victims," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The prosecutor's response in this high-profile case, namely his willingness to investigate violence by both sides and the role of state officials, is crucial for upholding the rule of law during this tense time."
On the afternoon of December 5, hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters marched to the presidential palace in response to several days of protests by opponents of Morsy's November 22 Constitutional Declaration, which granted the president broad powers. They were joined by the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, whose leaders called on their members to participate in the protest. Brotherhood and FJP supporters then broke up a sit-in of several dozen anti-Morsy protesters, tearing down their tents and rifling through their possessions, according to witnesses and video footage.
Over the next 12 hours, violence between Morsy supporters and anti-Morsy protesters escalated as first stones and then Molotov cocktails, rubber pellet rifles, and handguns were used by both sides. Central Security Forces, Egypt's riot police, and other security forces stationed nearby, including the presidential guard and military police, made no serious effort to halt the violence. Al Qazzaz told Human Rights Watch that the president had given "instructions to the security services to exercise restraint and avoid use of excessive force and to withdraw if needed to avoid casualties."
"The Egyptian authorities have a responsibility to ensure that the police uphold and protect the right to peaceful protest," Stork said. "The public prosecutor should promptly and impartially investigate the deaths resulting from the clashes and the failure of security forces to prevent the break-up of the peaceful sit-in and stop the ensuing violence."
During the clashes on the evening of December 5, FJP Deputy Secretary Essam al-Erian gave a live television interview, saying, "Everyone must go now to Ettihadiya and surround the thugs and separate the real revolutionaries out for one or two nights and then we can arrest them all." Similar calls were made over social media. Soon after, Morsy supporters began apprehending and detaining the anti-Morsy protesters.
Alleged Muslim Brotherhood and FJP members and supporters took 49 anti-Morsy protesters to a makeshift detention center at the Ettihadiya gate. They were beaten and otherwise mistreated on the way and at the detention site. A police report filed by the Masr Gedida police station obtained by human rights lawyer Taher Abul Nasr records that "youth from the Freedom and Justice Party handed the detainees over to the station." After their release, five of the protesters described to Human Rights Watch how they were abducted, detained, and ill-treated, while lawyers and family members discussed their efforts to locate them and obtain their release.
"The most painful beating happened on my way here because when people saw I was captured they'd reach out and hit me," said Mohamed Omar, an engineer. "But when I was handcuffed I was still kicked in the back and hit on the head. They called me a thug, accused me of being paid by opposition leaders."
The police took into custody at least another 92 people on the night of December 5. The next day the 49 held at Ettihadiya were turned over to the prosecutors. The prosecutors soon released 133 without charge for lack of evidence and 4 because they were minors. Four remained detained as of December 10. Lawyers representing the detainees told Human Rights Watch that prosecutors had ordered the referral of 95 detainees to forensic medical doctors for examination, a step indicating that physical abuse may have occurred.
Statements by President Morsy suggest he may have been aware of the unlawful detention of the anti-Morsy protesters outside the presidential palace, Human Rights Watch said. On the evening of December 6, Morsy announced in a nationally televised speech that "the confessions of those arrested and the interrogations show" that the detainees had been paid and incited to "use weapons." Egyptian journalist Mohamed el Garhy managed to access the detention center as a photographer and told Human Rights Watch that "whenever they brought in a new detainee they would call over the TV journalist to film a 'confession' and interrogate the detainee." Muslim Brotherhood chief lawyer Abdel Monim Abdel Maqsud told Human Rights Watch that the identity of those detaining the group was unknown.
"Unlawful detention and abuse occurring at the gates of the presidential palace, and in the presence of the riot police, raises real concerns that the presidential palace was aware of these abuses and did nothing to stop them," Stork said.
Muslim Brotherhood Protesters Break Up Peaceful Sit-in
The clashes on December 5, 2012, started when a march by hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party supporters broke up a peaceful sit-in by a few dozen anti-Morsy protesters outside the presidential palace in Cairo. Riot police and other security forces were present but did not intervene to protect peaceful protesters.
Earlier that day, the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party had called on Morsy's supporters to march to the presidential palace. On two previous occasions, the Muslim Brotherhood and FJP had relocated a planned demonstration to avoid clashes because anti-Morsy protesters were in the same location, following an incident in October when pro- and anti-Morsy demonstrators had engaged in a six-hour street clash in Cairo's Tahrir Square. The December 5 call to march to the presidential palace was published on the website of the FJP and in a news release issued by the FJP spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan, at around 1:30 p.m. Shortly thereafter, the deputy FJP head, Essam al-Erian, tweeted the call to march and posted the following on his public Facebook page:
The people should go to all the squares in all the governorates; especially in front of the Ettihadiya. ...The people will not allow this time for any third or fourth party, or any fifth column to bring strife to the country, or to cause bloodshed. ... The president will not change his mind [about the constitutional declaration]. If state agencies are weak and still damaged by the wounds of the past, the people can impose their will and protect legitimacy. Members of the FJP will be on the frontline, God-willing.
On December 6, the FJP parliamentary secretariat head, Ibrahim el-Sayed, acknowledged in a live interview on ON TV that the anti-Morsy protesters had been peaceful:
There was no intention to push anyone aside, because those who were there were only a few tents to one side which did not take up too much space or pose a problem in their existence. ... When the [FJP] peaceful protesters arrived, I think all the cameras filmed what was inside those tents. Its inhabitants had fled and as everyone saw, what was found inside them was alcohol and drugs and inappropriate things. What was said even then that there was no objection to their continuation there without problems, but then they started saying insults, rude words and using inappropriate language.
Authorities Fail to Halt Violence by Demonstrators
Between 3 and 4 p.m. on December 5, Muslim Brotherhood supporters who had marched to the presidential palace started to dismantle the anti-Morsy protesters' tents and demanded that the occupants leave. The anti-Morsy protesters left the area but regrouped further away from the presidential palace, where they were joined by other anti-Morsy protesters. Clashes soon broke out with demonstrators on both sides throwing stones. Central Security Forces riot police, who were deployed from 7 p.m. on, did little to halt the violence. Over the next 11 hours, as clashes escalated, none of the nearby security forces, including the Central Security Forces, the military police, and the presidential guard, made a serious effort to halt the violence.
The Health Ministry news release states that the violence resulted in 10 deaths and 748 injuries. In addition, an Al Fagr journalist, Al-Husseini Abu Deif, was shot in the head while covering the violence and remains in a coma. Witnesses characterized the violence as occurring along an easily discernible front line separating the two sides. Protesters and other witnesses told Human Rights Watch that both sides threw stones and Molotov cocktails, and used firearms such as rubber pellet rifles (khartoush) and handguns. On at least two occasions anti-Morsy protesters beat up occupants vehicles - a car and a truck - who appeared to be Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
Brotherhood Members Detain, Abuse Protesters and Bystanders
On the night of December 5 and 6, Morsy supporters and police apprehended at least 141 protesters and bystanders from the area around the presidential palace where the clashes were taking place. Muslim Brotherhood supporters handed some of these people over to the police, but refused to hand over the 49 anti-Morsy protesters they held in an area cordoned off by riot police just outside the presidential palace on Meghany Street.
Human Rights Watch interviewed four of the released detainees as well as three relatives and friends, who said they saw the makeshift detention center where they were being held. Human Rights Watch also spoke with three of the lawyers representing them and one journalist who gained access to interview the detained.
The 49 were detained until December 6 at 4 p.m., when police from the Masr al-Gedida station were given access to the detainees at the palace gate and took them to the police station. They were held with others who had been arrested the previous night. Prosecutors then interrogated them with lawyers present on accusations related to the violence, including assault.
On the evening of December 7, prosecutors ordered the release of 133 of the 141 for lack of evidence. Prosecutors had earlier released four minors. Four of those held remained in police custody as of December 10 on assault charges.
Released detainees and other witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the Muslim Brotherhood, assisted by FJP supporters, seemed to be running a makeshift detention center in the area right outside one of the gates of the presidential palace.
Released detainees and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that it was necessary to pass through a cordon of Central Security Forces in order to reach the center and that police were present in the area, which video footage taken by newspapers confirmed. In one video clip on the news website Rasd, entitled "A Thug Confesses," a group of men surround a man with bruises on his face who is crying, and one of them is questioning the man. The person holding him tells the interviewer, "This is number six for me, I won't take him to the police, I know where to take him so give him to me."
Journalist Mohamed al-Garhy managed to get into the detention center and later wrote about it for his paper Al Masry al-Youm. He told Human Rights Watch:
I was on the Brotherhood side of the protest and managed to get access to the detention center. I was there for three hours, from around 7:30 p.m. Every time they brought someone in they'd search them and take away their phones and IDs and would call over the TV journalist to film their "confessions." In the time I was there I saw them beat 13 detainees with their hands, with sticks. I took pictures and tweeted them in case they realized who I wrote for. I made sure you could see the wall of the presidential palace behind the bleeding detainees as evidence. The police were there and did nothing to stop the beating.
Anti-Morsy protesters described to Human Rights Watch being beaten and otherwise mistreated by apparent Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters outside the presidential palace. The abuse was captured in a video posted on December 6 by the TV station Rasd (RNN), which is friendly to the Muslim Brotherhood. The clip, "Confessions of the Accused," shows about 16 people in handcuffs, including at least one young child. Almost all of them show visible signs of injury, with blood on their faces or heads, bruises, and in one case a bloodied eye. The TV reporter questions three of those detained, one of whom says that they have not yet seen a prosecutor. The reporter tells one detainee that he is being charged with murder and that witnesses saw him shooting rubber pellets. The man says he knows nothing about this and had come from Tahrir Square because he opposes President Morsy's constitutional declaration.
Mohamed Omar, an engineer who was among the 49, told Human Rights Watch that at around 11 p.m. on December 5 he had gone to buy medical supplies for the protesters' field clinic from a pharmacy nearby. He said that on his way back:
There was an approach from the Brotherhood supporters at that point and a group of them captured me on Khalifa Maamoun Street. I suppose there were around five of them at first and they hit me on the head, in my side, on my legs with their hands and sticks. They took me to the palace gate, through the police cordon, to right in front of gate number four. They handcuffed me and sat me down on the ground. The most painful beating happened on my way here because when people saw I was captured they'd reach out and hit me. But when I was handcuffed I was still kicked in the back and hit on the head. They called me a thug, accused me of being paid by opposition leaders.
Yehia Negm, a former diplomat who was participating in the demonstrations, told Human Rights Watch:
At around 10 p.m. near the Heliopolis club on Marghani Street, at one point Brotherhood protesters were coming toward where I was standing and I couldn't run fast enough because of a leg injury. They grabbed me and started hitting me, many of them, with their hands, with stones and dragged me all the way to the gate of the presidential palace to the holding place. They handcuffed us very tightly as we sat on the floor. A couple of the men hit me and one woman kicked me. There were several men there in charge who kept asking me and the others with me, "Who is paying you? Who brought you here?" At one point one of them said, "You won't be able to find us because we're using fake names" - but I know that if I saw their faces again I will know them. There were between 20 to 30 riot police there but low-level and they didn't intervene. They were taking orders from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ahmed Khella had just left the presidential palace area when he learned that his cousin Yehia Negm had been taken by Morsy supporters. He told Human Rights Watch that he asked an Interior Ministry official stationed near the presidential palace where his cousin was:
The officer told me to speak to the doctor and pointed me toward the presidential gate, where a man in civilian clothing was giving instructions. He told me that my cousin would appear before the prosecutor the next morning by 9 a.m. [The next morning] I went to the local prosecutor's office but the prosecutor I spoke to said they hadn't even been informed that there were detainees because they were not being held at the police station. As a result of the kidnapping complaints filed by lawyers, the prosecutors went to the palace themselves and eventually at 5 p.m. [on December 6] Negm was brought to the Masr al-Gedida police station.
Sabry, a member of the Socialist People's Alliance, told Human Rights Watch that he was standing near the anti-Morsy protesters on Khalifa al-Maamoun Street with a friend, Ola Shahba, around 1 a.m. on December 6 when a group of Morsy supporters ran toward them. He tripped as he tried to flee and they captured him:
They started beating me with sticks and kicking me. There were many of them, I'd lost my glasses and couldn't see. They dragged me all along the street. They then took me through the Central Security Forces cordon toward the gate of the presidential palace. I was held there with around 10 people at first but then more kept coming. By the time they took us [the detainees] to the prosecutors' office the following day at 5 p.m., there were 49 of us. [Among those holding us] there were several members of the Brotherhood, I knew they were Brotherhood because I heard them saying that they had spoken to Brotherhood leaders on the phone.
Sabry is the second detainee interviewed in the December 6 RNN video. His head is bound with a bloodied bandage as the journalist asks him whether he was involved in the violence. Sabry denies this and said he had been attacked and beaten and that he had not yet seen a prosecutor.
Sabry's party colleague Akram Ismail Mohamed told Human Rights Watch that he had learned that Sabry had been detained and went at 9 a.m. on December 6 near the gate and said he could see the Central Security Forces cordon and beyond that an area where men in civilian clothing were standing. He told one of the men that he had come to check on Sabry's well-being. He said the man went in and came back saying that Sabry was fine.
Several women were among those apprehended and beaten by the Muslim Brotherhood supporters but were not detained along with the 49 men. Lina Megahed was sitting in front of a building entrance on Khalifa El Maamoun Street when Morsy supporters rushed toward her:
I couldn't move, so I stayed where I was and watched them run toward me. They threw lots of rocks at me thinking I was a guy. I heard one of them yell, "She's a girl! She's a girl!" They took me to an even bigger crowd of Muslim Brotherhood supporters.... They hit me with a stick, called me a bitch several times. They hit me with anything they had, even banners, and they kept on asking me how much I was being paid to protest. Some people were filming and taking pictures with their phones. They threatened to take me to "the center." I didn't understand what they meant by "the center." I was really scared. Instead, they took me in the corner of a gas station nearby. They asked me where I was from and what I was doing with the thugs and then a guy told me, "Give us your ID." I was crying and they let me go.
Ola Shahba was seized by a group along with Sabry on Khalifa Maamoun Street. On the live television show Akher Kalam on December 6, she said:
They started beating me brutally. They choked me. I even have some bruises left around my neck. Even when they took my [motorcycle] helmet to beat me up properly, and after they realized that I'm a girl, this didn't stop them. I was sexually harassed, they touched my body, and my breast. When someone tried to get me into an ambulance, another guy prevented him and told him that I deserve to be beaten just like everyone else. This guy who tried to help me out was a Salafi. I realized they weren't all Muslim Brotherhood there. I was detained there [in a Kiosk] for several hours.
A video filmed by the independent newspaper Al Watan at the Muslim Brotherhood detention center shows three men in civilian clothes beating a shirtless man who is bleeding from the mouth. One of the men shouts "You're a thug!" until, in a rare instance in which a member of the security forces responded, a Central Security Officer intervenes. The camera then focuses on another man who has bruises and blood on his face. Two men are questioning him, saying "Who gave you the money? Who is behind you? You'd better tell us otherwise they will beat you up - they will kill you." "Who was it from [Mubarak's] National Democratic Party." A man in a business suit tells the detainee, "The others we caught confessed that it was you, they told us your name. Search him."
The video next shows a child who appears to be around 14 to 16 years old who is handcuffed and crying. A Central Security Forces officer is standing next to the people in civilian clothes who are beating and interrogating injured detainees.
Freedom and Justice Party Leaders Called on Their Followers to Apprehend Anti-Morsy Protesters
The illegal apprehension and detention of anti-Morsy protesters by Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party supporters appears to have been at the instigation of senior party leaders. On the evening of December 5, Deputy Secretary Essam al-Erian said in a live television interview with Masr 25, a Muslim Brotherhood-friendly TV station:
I call upon them to go in hundreds of thousands and to surround the thugs, because this is the opportunity to arrest them and reveal the third party that is behind the shooting of live ammunition, and the killing of protesters in the battle of the camel, Mohamed Mahmoud, Maspero and the Cabinet [protests]. This is our opportunity now. The people must go there from everywhere to arrest these people and bring them before a real public prosecutor and bring them to justice to reveal who is funding them... from the businessmen and the former National Democratic Party members. Everyone must go now to Ettihadiya and surround the thugs and separate the real revolutionaries out ... for one or two nights and then we can arrest them all.
Public calls by al-Erian and other party officials to arrest and detain anti-Morsy protesters may have been incitement to violence, Human Rights Watch said. The public prosecutor should investigate the possible criminal responsibility of Freedom and Justice Party officials who appeared to call for the acts that resulted in unlawful arrest and mistreatment.
President Morsy's Speech Undermines Presumption of Innocence
In his December 6 televised speech, President Morsy asserted that what was new about the previous day's events was the use of lethal weapons by protesters. He went on to say that the security forces had arrested 80 people in connection with the violence:
Sadly some of those arrested have work and communication ties to political forces. And some of those using weapons were hired to do so, in exchange for a payment of money. This is what the investigations revealed, based on their confessions. Who gave them the money and the guns? Who supported them? This happened a while ago during the transition. We used to hear of the role of the third party in the Mohamed Mahmoud protests, at Maspero, at the Cabinet... Nobody had managed to identify the third party so far. Those arrested, the more than 80 who in fact used weapons yesterday, and no less than 40 others who they identified as related to them. The confessions of those arrested and the interrogations show; the prosecution will announce the results of the investigations that are currently ongoing... and will expose the perpetrators, those who incited and the funders whether internally or abroad.
Morsy's speech was pre-recorded and broadcast at 10 p.m., at which point prosecutors were still interrogating the detainees before determining whether to indict them or not. Around an hour and a half later that evening prosecutors ordered the release of 141 detainees on grounds of lack of evidence, leaving only four detained on four-day orders.
At a minimum, the president violated the rights of the detainees to a presumption of innocence because of his statements. But three lawyers who were present during the official interrogations, Sayed Fathy, Ragia Omran, and Mohamed Abdelaziz, told Human Rights Watch that none of the detainees had confessed to any of the crimes they were accused of and had instead denied all the charges. It therefore appears that the president was referring to "confessions" obtained through coercion during the interrogation of the 49 detainees held by Muslim Brotherhood members in their makeshift detention center outside the presidential gates. The prosecutor's investigation into the incident should include examining possible links between the Muslim Brotherhood's detention of anti-Morsy protesters and the authorities, Human Rights Watch said.
Morsy's speech also disturbingly mirrors allegations against the protesters made by the Muslim Brotherhood. Earlier on December 6, the Muslim Brotherhood website, Ikhwanonline, published an article claiming that "thugs" arrested by Morsy supporters had "confessed to being funded by [opposition politicians] [Mohamed] al-Baradei or Hamdeen Sabbahi." The Muslim Brotherhood's chief lawyer, Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsud, who is also a member of the National Council for Human Rights and head of the Brotherhood human rights group, Sawasiya, told Turkey's Anatolia News Agency:
The 83 thugs were arrested with money, knives, and Molotov cocktails....They admitted causing riots and killing and injuring hundreds of [the president's] supporters....We have clear-cut and documented evidence that proves major politicians and media figures incited the violence.
His brother, Salah Abdel Maqsud, the information minister, who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, told the state daily Al Ahram that he had "documents and evidence confiscated from dozens of thugs in front of the presidential palace that probe that Egypt is the target of a vicious conspiracy by political forces to wreak havoc and sabotage all the measures the president has taken towards stability."