By James Lynch, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa press officer
Taha Hussein was the first to express his fury at media reports of a possible “deal” that would allow Hosni Mubarak to avoid prosecution in return for a full apology to the Egyptian people.
We were with the victims of the ‘25 January Revolution’ – the families who lost loved ones and people who have been permanently injured by gunshot wounds. Taha’s son Hussein was killed in Alexandria, shot with a single bullet to the chest.
You might expect such people to be venerated in post-Mubarak Egypt. But it seems their experiences have for the most part been quite the opposite.Promised justice by the authorities, they feel they have been treated with contempt when they have tried to hold accountable those responsible for what happened to them.
Sayed Ibrahim Abdel Latif, whose 23-year-old son Mohamed was shot dead near Imbaba Police station, Giza, as he tried to carry an injured man to hospital, has been pursuing a case against the police officers suspected of the killing.
From the beginning officials have tried to brush him off and persuade him not to pursue his case. They even offered him money to drop the accusations.
He has persevered and managed to bring the case to court, but has been shocked at the attitude of those on trial for his son’s killing. He told us they lounge around in court drinking tea and apparently taking their trial lightly, confident that the system where they have acted with impunity for many year will not let them down.
Sayed was incensed to hear a senior security official recently suggest on television that people killed near police stations were in fact “thugs” rather than genuine protesters.“We are not the thugs,” he shouted. “The killers are the thugs!”
The use of the word “thug” to stigmatise those who have been killed, injured and tortured in protests is a disturbing trend in Egypt. It is a convenient label which deprives them of “martyr” status and therefore the reparation and dignity that they are entitled to.
For families like Sayed’s, it is another indication that the dice are loaded against them. While he has lost a son and as yet received no reparation, the suspected killers have continued in their jobs up to the date of their trial.“The pain is so much that we can’t sleep, and they are still working,” said Ashraf, Mohamed’s brother.
The situation is if anything even worse for the families of prisoners who were killed in unrest at the time of protests. Malik Tawfiq, whose brother Tamer died on 3 February in unclear circumstances after last being seen alive in the hands of the military, told yesterday’s meeting that he had tried without any success to get the authorities to investigate the case.
“I went to the Public Prosecution to file a complaint against the army,” he said. “But they said this was not possible. I want to be able to hold the military accountable if they are the ones who killed my brother.”
In desperation he even went to El Faiyum prison to look into his brother’s death himself, but was beaten and humiliated by the guards when he got there.
Many of those who had travelled to Cairo to share their experiences said they feel abandoned by the institutions that are supposed to support them. They welcomed Amnesty’s report on protest killings, detention and torture during the “25 January Revolution” which calls for greater efforts to meet their needs for justice and reparation. They feel that fewer and fewer voices are taking their side at the moment.
This sense of powerlessness and humiliation is what lies at the heart of the outrage at the idea that Mubarak could escape justice with a mere apology. It suggests that even after millions took to the streets to demand a more just society, there remains one law for the rich and powerful and another for ordinary people.
“Was that the revolution?” said Ashraf, as the meeting was drawing to a close. Hopes for a fairer and more equal Egypt remain a fragile and still elusive dream. Little wonder then, then calls are spreading for renewed protests.