Egypt: Systematic failure to rein in security forces

A year after the uprising, Egypt’s security forces continue to kill protesters with the same brutal tactics used in Hosni Mubarak’s last days in power, Amnesty International said after concluding that riot police yet again used excessive force in policing protests in Cairo and Suez. The protests earlier this month followed the Port Said tragedy in which more than 70 football fans from Al-Ahly club were killed after a football match on 1 February. The organization found that, between 2 and 6 February, the Ministry of Interior’s Central Security Forces (riot police) used excessive force, including firearms, to disperse angry protests, killing at least 16 people and injuring hundreds of others. “The behaviour of the security forces in dealing with these protests is unfortunately very reminiscent of a time many Egyptians thought they had left behind after the ‘25 January Revolution’,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. “Promises of reform of the security forces continue to ring hollow in the face of the killing of more than a hundred protesters in the last five months.” “Not only have the authorities not reformed the security forces but evidence of the use of shotguns and live ammunition is met with denial and accusation of foreign interference by Egyptian officials.” Previous calls for reform of the security sector only led to piecemeal changes while the authorities continued to inappropriately use teargas and live ammunitions. The Egyptian authorities ostensibly announced investigations into incidents leading to the killing or severe injury of protesters. Yet no lessons were learnt and no clear instructions seem to have been given to the security forces, including military personnel, to uphold the right to peaceful assembly and to police demonstrations in line with international standards. Lethal force was used without prior warning to disperse protesters in Cairo and Suez in February 2012 who were, for the most part, peacefully demonstrating and chanting. Some protesters were, however, throwing stones at the security forces and Amnesty International heard occasional reports of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at the riot police. In rare incidents, shotgun ammunition and fireworks were also fired at riot police. “Police should not use firearms against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury. Intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. “Security forces have a duty to restore law and order, however, the recent use of excessive force by the security forces show a complete disrespect for human life.””It is now very clear that the newly elected parliamentary assembly must urgently tackle the long overdue reforms to the way security forces have been policing demonstrations.” “Unless the Egyptian security apparatus is reformed with the aim of providing security and upholding the right to peaceful protest, we fear more bloodshed will follow.” Excessive use of tear gas Amnesty International delegates witnessed riot police relentlessly firing tear gas at groups of anti-SCAF protesters standing in Cairo’s Mansur street and Mohamed Mahmoud street, both leading to the Ministry of Interior and which witnessed the worst clashes.   Riot police used tear gas disproportionately in instances when protesters did not represent an imminent danger to safety. They never gave notice before firing tear gas canisters. Volunteer doctors and witnesses in both Cairo and Suez reported that riot police aimed tear gas directly at the very field hospitals that provide first aid treatment to protesters suffering from tear gas inhalation and other injuries. In Suez, some media workers for TV 25 were also targeted directly with tear gas causing respiratory difficulties. Some US-made tear gas canisters in Suez bore a manufacture date of August 2011, suggesting they were part of a recent US shipment of tear gas delivered to Egypt in November. In December 2011 Amnesty International called on global arms suppliers to halt the transfer of tear gas, small arms, ammunition and other repressive equipment to the Egyptian military and security forces.