Egypt: Protests by Sudanese migrants and refugees over brutal killing of a child met with violence and arrests

The Egyptian authorities must immediately unconditionally release all Sudanese refugees and migrants detained solely in relation to their peaceful protests over the chilling killing and mutilation of a Sudanese child in Cairo on 29 October, and effectively investigate the beating and other ill-treatment of protesters by security forces, Amnesty International said today.

Egyptian security forces dispersed two peaceful protests using tear gas and water cannon, and arbitrarily arrested tens of Sudanese refugees and migrants. Protesters were subjected to beatings with batons, racial and xenophobic slurs and other forms of ill-treatment. At least 10 individuals are currently detained, and a prosecutor is expected to decide whether to release them or extend their detention today.

There can be no justification for the Egyptian security forces’ brutal crackdown on Sudanese refugees and migrants who took the streets to demand justice for the horrifying killing of a child. The way the security forces are lashing out against people exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is abhorrent and must immediately end.
Philip Luther

News of the horrific killing of Mohamed Hasan, a 12-year-old Sudanese child, by an Egyptian man on 29 October prompted dozens of members of the Sudanese community to gather in front of Masaken Othman where the child had lived, while others protested in front of the UNHCR office in 6th October City, an area in the western part of Greater Cairo, which is home to a large number of refugees and migrants. Protesters also voiced anger about violence and discrimination they have endured in Egypt, amid the state’s failure to protect them.

“There can be no justification for the Egyptian security forces’ brutal crackdown on Sudanese refugees and migrants who took the streets to demand justice for the horrifying killing of a child. The way the security forces are lashing out against people exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly is abhorrent and must immediately end,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director.

“Allegations of beatings, the use of racial slurs and other forms of ill-treatment by security forces must be investigated, and those responsible must be held accountable. Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.”

Crackdown on peaceful protest

Amnesty International spoke to two witnesses and examined four videos filmed during the protests. Dozens of protesters had gathered peacefully near the child’s home in Masaken Othman and in front of UNHCR’s offices. According to the testimonies and video footage of the first protest, very shortly thereafter, security forces violently dispersed the protest, firing tear gas on the protestors and beating them with batons, before arresting several people at random, including children.

A video verified by Amnesty International shows police forces using a water cannon to disperse peaceful protestors in front of UNCHR, while a woman can be heard saying that the police had arrested some people.

Security forces transferred around 70 individuals, men and women, to a place they believed to be a central prison in Giza, where they were subjected to beatings and racial and xenophobic slurs, before being released the next day.

Allegations of beatings, the use of racial slurs and other forms of ill-treatment by security forces must be investigated, and those responsible must be held accountable. Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all those detained solely for peacefully exercising their human rights.
Philip Luther

Security forces also asked seven relatives and neighbours of Mohamed Hassan to go to a police station in 6th October City to identify the child’s body. They were detained at the station and their phones were confiscated. Five other Sudanese nationals from the area were also brought into the station later. Two individuals were released later that day without charges, but the remaining 10 remained in custody and a prosecutor ordered their detention on 3 November pending investigations, however the charges are not known to lawyers so far.

According to information gathered by Amnesty International, several of the men and women were beaten by police while in custody with plainclothes police officers threatening to imprison them. Police interrogated them about who had funded the protests, claiming there was an organization behind it, and warned them not to challenge the "Egyptian state."

On 2 November, plainclothes security forces raided the houses and workplaces of at least five Sudanese activists in Greater Cairo. At least three others received threatening phone calls, in which they were told they would be detained or deported. The crackdown forced several activists to go into hiding, while those that Amnesty International spoke to, expressed their fear of retaliation, citing constant fears of targeting by security forces for their perceived activism.    

Following the protest and arrests, the Office of the Public Prosecution released a statement on 1 November announcing the detention of the child’s suspected killer pending investigations, and dismissing all claims of human rights violations against refugees and other foreign nationals in Egypt. The next day, the Ministry of the Interior said that the suspect had confessed to killing Mohamed Hassan. Anyone responsible for the killing of the Sudanese child should be brought to justice in proceedings meeting international fair trial standards, without recourse to the death penalty.

UNCHR has thus far not commented on the use of force outside its offices or the arrests of the Sudanese nationals, including asylum seekers.

At least 49 thousand Sudanese refugees are registered with the UNHCR, but this only represents a small fraction of the Sudanese population in Egypt. Several media investigations have reported on the racism, xenophobia and violence, including sexual violence experienced by Sudanese and other refugees from Sub-Saharan African countries in Egypt, amid lack of state protection. In 2005, Egyptian security forces killed at least 27 Sudanese protestors in front of the UNCHR building in Mohandseen in Greater Cairo, but no officials were held accountable for their killing.