The story of Hamada Saber

Hamada Saber went to the presidential palace at Ettihadia on Friday night with his family to protest against President Morsi. At some point in the evening, he ended up stripped naked and beaten by police. The beating was caught by a satellite television channel and broadcast live, instantly turning into an iconic moment of police brutality like that of the video of the girl with the blue bra in December 2011.

Here's the video if you haven't seen it.

The authorities immediately reacted to the footage, with presidency and interior ministry pledging to investigate the matter and condemning the violence. [Update: here's the NYT coverage of their contrition.] Prosecutors began an investigation into the security forces in the footage. But Hamada Saber was still held overnight on Friday by police, and by the time he was hospitalized he began to give a different version of events, as al-Ahram reports:

However, in a shocking turnaround of events on Saturday, Saber and his wife, speaking from the same police hospital the CSF transferred Saber to in the wake of their assault on him, seemed to blame the protesters for the bulk of the suffering he was subjected to on the previous night.

"I was standing at Roxy Square [near the palace] drinking a soda, when a large number of protesters who mistook me for a CSF officer because of my black attire attacked me and stripped me of my clothes," said Saber.

"The protesters were angered by the fact that I tried to dissuade them from firing bird shots at the police," claimed Saber.

Fathya, the assaulted man's wife who was by his bedside at the police hospital, sent a message of gratitude to the ministry of interior.

"The police are very respectful and are standing by our side, and the minister's assistant for human rights has passed by and will come again tomorrow [Saturday]," Fathya told ONTV.

Moreover, on Saturday night, Saber, told state TV that he was caught in the fight between protesters and the police.

"The protesters fired an unknown bullet at me and robbed me. When I saw the CSF soldiers coming at the crowd, I was scared and I ran. The soldiers chased after me yelling they wanted to help me. When I fell, they caught me and said: 'you gave us a hard time, man.'"

The public prosecutor then began to change tack and began to blame protestors for beating the man — even though the video evidence clearly showed that whatever protestors did, the police clearly hit Saber. Saber is effusively thanking the interior ministry. Everything points to him having been coerced into not pressing charges at the ministry and being cooperative. From al-Ahram, again:

News reports leaked from "investigators" and "authorities" to media outlets throughout the day on Saturday threw doubts in some people's minds on what actually Saber did, what the police did, and what the police wanted the world to think had happened on Friday night.
One report, for example, picked up by a number of online papers said that investigators who were questioning Saber could charge the assault victim with possession of 18 Molotov cocktail bombs and two buckets of gasoline intended for making fire bombs.
Later in the day, the minister of interior reportedly called the victim to apologise on behalf of the ministry and promised to offer Saber, who said he is a day labourer who is constantly short on gigs, a job.
In the early hours of Saturday night, Saber, who seemed to be recovering well at the police hospital, made the rounds on Satellite TV.
In one such interview, Saber told Al-Hayat TV that the police had a good reason to treat him the way they did because he was resisting arrest.
"I understand what they did because the protesters were near and I was giving them a hard time."
As the Al-Hayat reporter pressed Saber to explain how he was being saved by his attackers, the man insisted: I know what is in my best self-interest. Do not instigate serious problems for me."

He does not want problems. One can understand. But it does appear that he is being threatened into shutting up so that the police and the government don't see this turning into the same iconic moment as previous instances of beatings and abuse. Human rights lawyers and his own family (which was on the scene) have kept on saying that he was beaten by police.

In the most surreal part of this sad episode, Hamada Saber and his daughter Randa ended up arguing about what happened to him on a major satellite TV talk show, with Hamada accusing Randa of having taken money from satellite channels to lie about him. Here's the footage:

Whatever happened to Hamada, the police did what it did, and he appears to have been intimidated against blaming the interior ministry as the government worked overtime to carry out damage limitation. Such practice is actually quite typical of what has happened in Egypt for decades, including since the 2011 uprising. If you look at the court cases into police murders during the 18 days of the uprising, you often have officers leaning on the families of the victims to settle out of court or withdraw charges. Not that many have been actually convicted thus far, or that there has been any attempt at creating either a transitional justice process or carry out serious security sector reform thus far — under SCAF or under Morsi.

[Thanks to Ashraf Khalil and Samer Atrush for some of the links used here. Update: here's Ashraf's piece on the incident.]

Update: More surrealism:

And an eye-witness account of the beating.

Egypt: Parliament vs. SCAF

This press release from EIPR is typical of many human rights groups attitude towards Tantawi's semi-abrogation of the Emergency Law last week:

EIPR Urges People’s Assembly to Immediately Vote to End the State of Emergency

In a letter Sent to MPs and Parliamentary Bodies: Field Marshal Tantawi’s Declaration Excepting Crimes of Thuggery is a Perpetuation of the Repressive Practices of the Mubarak State

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) sent a letter this morning to the heads of all political parties' parliamentary bodies, as well as several independent MPs, urging them to immediately and decisively engage with Field Marshal Tantawi’s decision to “end the State of Emergency all over the Republic except when confronting crimes of thuggery.” The EIPR believes this is a perpetuation of the repressive practices of the Mubarak regime and compared Tantawi’s declaration excepting thuggery to Mubarak’s declaration excepting crimes of terrorism and drug trafficking when he extended the State of Emergency in May 2010.

To continue click here.

Do read the letter, which details more steps parliament should take, including reviewing other SCAF decrees and the penal code. Not unrelated, EIPR's director (and an old, old friend of mine) Hossam Bahgat remarks to the AP that parliament has a duty to assume its legislative powers and review decrees issued by SCAF:

Many lawmakers and activists have already demanded that parliament review other military decrees issued since the generals took power last February, including a law banning public protest and strikes, as well as a decision to only partially lift of the hated Mubarak-era emergency laws.

The largely secular and urban activist groups want an immediate end to military rule, and have called for the army to return to its barracks before a constitution be written and a president elected.

“It is primarily a challenge for the (Brotherhood) majority,” said Hossam Bahgat, a human rights lawyer. “If the Brotherhood wants to send a message to its constituency and the public at large they are now an independent and effective legislature, they have no choice but to reopen (discussion) of these decrees.”

That's the outline of one of the political meta-struggles between parliament and SCAF over the next few months.

Questions around HRW's world report

Yesterday HRW released it's latest world report, with much emphasis on the Arab spring and a call on the international community to strengthen its support for democratic transitions. It was launched in Cairo, and I was at the press conference and asked the question in the clip above about Egypt. With so many observers of the Egyptian scene talking about some kind of deal between the new parliament (esp. the Muslim Brothers) and the military, I thought it was worth talking about. HRW's Ken Roth doesn't like the idea, seeing it as a bad start to a democracy.

I also asked about what the West can do, a major theme of Roth's, including about aid conditionality, which I've been a big believer in for years (and indeed the more radical notion of "no reform, no aid of any kind.")

[Thanks DS for making the footage available.]

Kuwaitis Denied Justice in Guantanamo Bay

Jenifer Fenton reports from Kuwait. This month marks the third year that President Barack Obama's campaign promise to "close Guantanamo" (modified soon after his inauguration to close the detention facility by January 2010) will have gone unfulfilled. A chronology of the Obama administration's postponment of the closure can be found at the LA Times.

The worst of the worst, they were called. Twelve Kuwaitis were “captured” in Afghanistan and Pakistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in the months following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Unproven accusations of associations with the Taliban and Al Qaeda robbed them of years of their lives. The 12 said they left Kuwait to do charity work or to teach Islam or to live more Islamic lives. Many were sold to the Americans for bounty and all said they were tortured by US forces.

Eventually 10 would be freed.

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Citizen M.

The following account, by activist and artist Aalam Wassef, details a meeting with prisoner of conscience Maikel Nabil, who was sentenced to two years in jail by a military tribunal on 14 December 2011 for "insulting the military." It is reproduced here with permission and was originally published on Facebook.

This is an account of my encounter on December 31st with Egyptian blogger and activist Maikel Nabil, arrested by the Supreme Council of Armed forces for opinions he posted on his blog. Maikel is now serving a two years sentence and is enduring inhuman conditions of detention. Since his arrest Maikel has refused to recognize the Military Prosecutor’s ability to judge him. Military trials for civilians have swept the Egyptian revolution with no less than 12,000 arrests since January 28th 2011.

El Marg Prison, 8.40 am. Waiting for Mark, Maikel Nabil's younger brother. Mark arrives carrying three heavy bags containing juices, milk, books, hundreds of sympathy messages, newspapers… An ornamented award certificate reads Istanbul, AHRLY, To Maikel Nabil for his firm commitment to freedom. I read again and stop at the word firm.

As we pass the prison’s porch, we’re immediately identified as Maikel people. Walky talkies start buzzing. Harrassment starts, routine bullying and unwritten administrative measures that Mark denounces vocally, one after the other, fearless.

Our bags and ourselves are searched and scanned, papers are confiscated. We board the traditional yellow wagon-bus that will take us to the visitor's hall. Right and left, all we can see are fields and animals. At the end of this unexpected green road, stands a white, blind, imposing wall, topped with barbed wire and, in the middle of all that whiteness, a small black door.

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Egypt: An end to virginity tests

Samira Ibrahim, who won first part of her case against the Egyptian military's

From Hossam Bahgat, the director of the excellent NGO Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights:

I have good news (gasp). This morning the Court of Administrative Justice ruled in our favor in the case against army chief for subjecting female protesters to "virginity tests". Court admitted the case and issued an urgent injunction against any future "tests". We now continue the fight to get criminal accountability and compensation for the women.

The above pic is of Samira Ibrahim, a victim of the "virginity tests" last March who took the military to court.

Read more about the case in Daily News Egypt.

No justice for the UAE five

Five activists charged with opposing the Emirati government, inciting demonstrations and insulting the country’s leadership have been sentenced to jail. The rulers of the United Arab Emirates have made it clear they do not welcome public challenges to their absolute authority to rule.

Ahmed Mansoor, a prominent Emirati human rights activist who faced more charges than the others, was sentenced to three years. Four others, including Nasser Bin Ghaith, an academic who has lectured at Sorbonne Abu Dhabi, received two year prison terms. The trial was held in a state security court. The men cannot appeal, according to Mohammed Al Roken, one of the lawyers representing them.

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Amnesty: Military crushed revolution

Egypt: Military rulers have 'crushed' hopes of 25 January protesters | Amnesty International:

Egypt's military rulers have completely failed to live up to their promises to Egyptians to improve human rights and have instead been responsible for a catalogue of abuses which in some cases exceeds the record of Hosni Mubarak, Amnesty International said today in a new report.
 
In Broken Promises: Egypt's Military Rulers Erode Human Rights, the organization documents a woeful performance on human rights by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) which assumed power after the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in February.

This is the most scathing indictment of the military's role during the transition I've seen from any mainstream group.

Egyptian NGOs say no to SCAF

NGOs Refuse to Meet with Governing Authorities - six leading Egyptian NGOs say no more legitimization of SCAF and its agents:

The undersigned human rights organizations refuse to participate in the meeting called today by Dr. Ali Salmi, Deputy Prime Minister for Political Development and Democratic Transition, in order to discuss criteria for selecting a Constituent Assembly to draft the constitution. We refuse to attend any other meetings of this kind until the government of Dr. Essam Sharaf and the military council prove their respect for the dignity and rights of the Egyptian people. Under this government and military council, thousands have been subjected to unjust military trials, and torture has increased whilst perpetrators go unpunished. Smear campaigns have targeted the very civil society organizations which helped uncover and address the crimes of the former dictator Hosni Mubarak — apparently in revenge for their concern for the dignity and rights of the Egyptian people.

. . .

The undersigned human rights organizations say: 'We established our credibility with the Egyptian people through years of hard work resisting the dictatorship and addressing practices which violated human rights. Regardless of the military council and government's position towards us, we will not participate in discussions which, ten months after the fall of Mubarak, begin to look less and less serious. It is out of question to discuss a constituent assembly to draft the constitution with the government and military council. Their prisons are packed with hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens. Their people have paid the price for a society which respects the rights and dignity of humans with the blood of their children. And members of this government and council continue to evade punishment for their crimes, falsehoods, and incitement against the Egyptian people.'

It's worth noting that even the very official National Council for Human Rights (not a signatory) issued a report on the Maspero affair that clearly put some of the blame on the military. It seems Egyptian civil society is, perhaps belatedly, taking a stance against SCAF and questioning its legitimacy.

Why do we care about Alaa more than Maikel?

There's a good post up at Bikya Misr asking that question:

CAIRO: A total of no more than 15 people showed up on Tuesday November 1 outside C28 to show their support for Maikel Nabil. Of the 15 were a couple of Maikel’s own family members and AlJazeera crew, which essentially dwindles the numbers down to about 11 protesters.

It’s Maikel’s 70th day on hunger strike, but clearly it didn’t concern many.

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Another letter from Alaa from, and on, prison

Alaa Abdel Fattah, the Egyptian blogger and activist who has been jailed for refusing to answer the questions of a military prosecutor about the Maspero Affair, has been shifted to another cell. In another heart-breaking dispatch from prison, he explains why:

I am writing this note with a deep sense of shame. I have just been moved from Ist’naf (appeal) prison, at my request and insistence, because I simply couldn’t withstand the difficult conditions there: because of the darkness, the filth , the roaming cockroaches, crawling over my body night and day; because there was no courtyard, no sunshine and, again, the darkness.

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In Translation: Alaa Abdel Fattah on Meena Daniel

We have a special article for this week's translated commentary from the Arabic press, provided as always by the full-service translation firm Industry Arabic.

Alaa Abdel FattahA few days ago, the Egyptian military announced that the activist and blogger (and pioneering geek) Alaa Abdel Fattah and another activist, Bahaa Saber, were being summoned by the military prosecutor. No reason was given why, but the summons came soon after an article by Abdel Fattah came out in al-Shorouk newspaper in which he gives a heart-rending testimony of the death of activist Meena Daniel at Maspero on October 9 and puts blame at the feet of the military.

Meena DanielThis article, reproduced below in English, was circulated widely on Facebook and elsewhere. It is possible that Abdel Fattah and Saber are being summoned on accusations of inciting violence at Maspero, but equally possible that this article pushed the military to act. These latest actions by the military council, even after it claims that the use of military tribunals will stop, shows the increasingly authoritarian way in which the military is acting and mounting pressure on mainstream media as well as activists to end public criticism of the SCAF.

LIVING WITH THE MARTYRS

By Alaa Abdel Fattah, al-Shorouk, 20 October 2011

A couple days spent at the morgue. A couple days amid the corpses of those struggling to preserve their martyr status, fighting against the Mubarak regime in its entirety; not just against Mubarak’s military who ran them over, not just against Mubarak’s media machine which denied them the honor of martyrdom and turned them into mere killers, and not just against Mubarak’s judicial system which denied them their rights.

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Bahraini justice on trial

Last week was a bad week to be on trial in Bahrain. 

On September 29, a military court — or what Bahrain calls the National Safety Court — sentenced 20 medical professionals from five to 15 years in jail on charges that included inciting to overthrow the regime, possession of weapons, and forcefully taking over control of the main medical complex, Salmaniya Hospital. 

The medics all say they are innocent and the international community has not found fault with them, but they have found fault with Bahrain’s courts.  

“These are medical professionals who were treating patients during a period of civil unrest, as their ethical duty requires them to do. To imprison them as part of a political struggle is unconscionable,” said Physicians for Human Right’s Chief Policy Officer, Hans Hogrefe, in a press statement.  

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Human rights and Egypt's transition

One of the big questions for the future of Egypt is how to change the culture of police enforcement, security agencies and the army when it comes to accountability, respect of the rule of law, human rights practice and more generally attitudes towards public freedoms. It was always unrealistic to expect to change this overnight, and there are several problems to tackle — to start with: 

  • deeply ingrained institutional practices (sometimes codified in laws, regulations and procedures that have their origins in the days of British rule in Egypt, as well as the security state established by Nasser);  
  • the need for a shift away from a culture of entitlement, paternalism, sexism, and authoritarianism;
  • a structural adjustment to end a micro-economy of corruption that made police officers, for instance, resort to accepting bribes because their basic salaries are low and they were practically encouraged to be on the take to compensate. This of course benefited more senior officers who were engaged in more serious corruption (and were paid adequately) and shielded them from criticism, since everyone was on the take. 
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