By Nicholas Piachaud, Campaigner on North Africa at Amnesty International
No parent should have to bury their child.
But a year ago, the parents of teenager Gaber Salah Gaber Ahmed – also known as “Gika” – told us they had to do just that.
Today, as Egyptians take to the streets once more, they’re still waiting for truth and justice.
On the morning of 20 November 2012, Gika joined mass demonstrations against the security forces in Cairo.
Hundreds gathered in the streets around the Interior Ministry to mark the anniversary of deadly demonstrations in Mohamed Mahmoud Street the year before.
But Gika never made it home that day.
Instead, he was rushed from the scene of the protests to a hospital, where doctors declared him brain-dead. There was a shotgun ball lodged in his head.
His family buried him on 26 November 2012 after his heart stopped, following six days on life-support.
We met Gika’s family in their home some days after the burial. Sitting in the teenager’s bedroom, we tried to piece together the fatal sequence of events – the video testimony of an eyewitness, who said he had been with Gika in the minutes before the shooting and had seen the police open fire on the protesters; the friend who had arrived on the scene just minutes after Gika was shot; the forensic examination which had found shotgun rounds lodged in the teenager’s brain and chest.
Mixed with the fury and sorrow, the family told us of their fear that the security forces had targeted him deliberately. Police informers had asked about him in the neighbourhood, they said. Anonymous phone callers had told him to stop criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood.
Maybe Gika had been as good as dead the moment he stepped outside his door.
His family had brushed aside sympathetic approaches from the office of the now ousted President Mohamed Morsi after their son’s killing, they said. What they wanted was truth and justice.
But, even back then, they knew there was little hope.
“There is nothing to say,” his father told us by phone some months later. “There is no judiciary and no justice in Egypt anymore.”
Today, it seems the Egyptian security forces answer to no one.
Prosecutors charged with investigating Gika’s death seem more concerned with locking up Morsi supporters than investigating human rights violations by the security forces.
So far, their inquiries have succeeded in prosecuting just a handful of police officers since the “25 January Revolution” in 2011.
Since then, hundreds more protesters have died at the hands of the police. That means hundreds of families like Gika’s are still waiting for answers.
Anger at the government’s failure to deliver is palpable. Yesterday, amid much fanfare, the government unveiled a new monument in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, famous as the focal point of the 2011 uprising and countless protests since.
It lasted less than a day before protesters tore it apart. A monument is no substitute for accountability.
Gika’s image has lived on after his death. In the months after he died, you could find pictures of his face everywhere – scrawled on posters and printed on T-shirts, and even traced onto the tents of protesters camped out in Tahrir Square, where it all began.
But Gika will never come home.
In one moment, one year ago, the security forces snatched away a lifetime of hope and possibility, and handed a family a lifelong battle for truth and justice.
“I will not give up on Gika’s rights,” his father told us, some months ago. “I will use all my power to bring the officers in charge to justice.
“I know that if the perpetrators in Gika’s case are to be tried and jailed, this will bring the rest of the perpetrators in other cases to justice.”
One year later, they are still waiting.
Egypt: State-sanctioned pattern of excessive use of force by security forces (News, 14 October 2013)
Egypt’s disastrous bloodshed requires urgent impartial investigation (News, 16 August 2013)
Tea and tear gas in Tahrir Square (News, 29 November 2012)
Egypt: These walls can speak – Cairo’s Mohamed Mahmoud graffiti (News, 18 November 2012)
Egypt: Military rulers have ‘crushed’ hopes of 25 January protesters (News, 22 November 2011)