By Sally Sami, Regional Campaign Coordinator for Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme
The second session of the trial of two policemen accused of beating Khaled Said to death started in Alexandria on Saturday, marred by the heavy presence of security forces.
The court was surrounded by uniformed anti-riot officers and cordoned off with metal railings. Both entrances were guarded by plain-clothed police officers who only let lawyers into the building.
Behind the security forces on the steps outside the court, around 150 supporters of the police officers brandished wooden sticks and chanted insults about Khaled Said and his family, which were also directed at the 100 or so anti-torture protesters on the pavement.
I arrived at the court just after 9am. Pushing my way through the crowd, I was stopped by a plain-clothed police officer who asked me for my Bar Association membership card.
I said I was not a lawyer and introduced myself as a representative of Amnesty International who wanted to observe the trial. The police officer refused my entry, insisting that I needed permission from the Head of the Court.
I tried to explain that the lawyers were waiting for me inside and that I had a letter from Amnesty International to present to the court. Again he refused me entry. I asked if I could meet the Head of the Court and get permission but he said no.
I was pushed back and plain-clothed police officers started aggressively pushing the crowd, nearly causing a stampede. I tried to negotiate my entry with the police officer again, telling him that in no country where the rule of law prevails would police have such control over enters the court. After all, aren’t trials supposed to be public, unless decided by a judge? If the authorities have nothing to conceal, why aren’t we allowed in to observe the trial? He said: “This is the way it is and if you don’t like it then leave the country”.
Witnesses have reported that Khaled Said was beaten to death while in the hands of Egyptian security forces, in the city of Alexandria on Sunday 6 June.
Shocking pictures of Khaled Said’s body, whose face was almost unrecognizable in the morgue, were posted on the internet shortly after his death.
Ahmed Abdel Hakim, one of the witnesses to Khaled Said’s beating, told me that the police were refusing to let his father enter the court with him. His father was worried about the safety of his son. After all, his son was about to make a statement incriminating the police and holding them responsible for Khaled Said’s death. “I will not let him go in there alone,” his father shouted.
A lawyer tried to negotiate the father’s entry but was only met with abuse. In the end Ahmed went on his own. It took him half an hour to reach the security cordon. By that time, his mobile phone had been pick-pocketed and the court order to attend the session was torn. He finally entered the court safely.
I was finally allowed through the cordon of the anti-torture protest. A wooden stick thrown by the supporters of the police officers hit a journalist’s face. Minutes later a young woman was hit on the head.
Ahmed Said, Khaled Said’s brother, phoned and said the session was adjourned and that they were on their way home. I headed to Khaled Said’s family’s home in the Cleopatra district. The family were in shock.
They said that by the time they arrived at the court, the hall was already full and they hardly had space to sit. In the court, a newspaper was distributed. On its front page was a picture of Khaled Said allegedly in detention, to support the argument of the authorities that he was a criminal.
Khaled Said’s family said that one of the witnesses was threatened by the accused’s family members. “Isn’t it enough that they killed my son,” Khaled Said’s mother told me “why are they trying to tarnish his reputation and ours?”
Human rights organizations believe that torture is systematic in Egypt and for years have been urging the authorities to take concrete steps to end torture and impunity for security forces in the country.
The authorities deny that torture is widespread but they’re not able to provide any figures.
If they’re serious about combating torture, it shouldn’t be that difficult to provide figures as to the number of torture allegations made, the number of investigations opened and results of these investigations.
So far this has not happened.
The next session in the Khaled Said trial is scheduled for 23 October.
The Egyptian authorities must ensure that the trial continues without any intervention or intimidation from the police or the security forces. That’s a real test as to whether they’re serious about combating torture or police brutality.