Violence against activists becomes more systematic, observers say

Reports released by human rights organizations over the past months say that the targeting of activists and deliberate murder of civilians inside and outside detention facilities have been on the rise since President Mohamed Morsy was elected in June.

What’s more, the mounting number of cases seems to point to a systematic targeting of low-profile activists, and even bystanders.

The deaths of Gaber Salah, known as Jika, Mohamed al-Gendy of the leftist Popular Current movement, and Mohamed Qorany, known as Christie — all of whom were active in anti-Muslim Brotherhood Facebook groups — have led observers and rights groups to speculate that the activists were targeted for their political activities.

Rights lawyer Malek Adly tells Egypt Independent that such targeting is not new, but rather a consistent violation that has been taking place since the time of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, that also continued to take place during the military regime’s rule.

Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence released a report in October stating that 11 cases of targeted abduction and torture had been documented during the first six months of Morsy’s rule.

“Some of these cases were in unknown places and others were in police detention facilities,” Al-Nadeem stated.

Karim Ennarah, a researcher on criminal justice and policing at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, argues the situation is still ambiguous, as it is difficult to decide whether Salah, Gendy and Qorany were deliberately targeted.

He adds, however, that the increasing number of abduction cases is beginning to give the argument more weight.

“From a rights perspective, it is difficult to trace the conditions in which these activists were killed, but we have received many indicators that show an attempt at targeting,” Ennarah says.

Targeting of low-profile activists

Activists and rights groups are alarmed at this possible targeting of young activists across governorates. They believe the low-profile activists are being singled out for their opposition to the ruling Brotherhood.

Salah, the administrator of Facebook group “Together Against the Brotherhood,” was shot in the head on Mohamed Mahmoud Street in November while commemorating the victims of similar clashes that erupted a year before.

Gendy, who was allegedly detained and tortured to death at Al-Darb al-Ahmar Prison, was a Popular Current member as well as an administrator of an anti-Brotherhood Facebook group. Qorany, who was shot in front of the presidential palace during clashes two weeks ago, was the administrator of the “Ikhwan Kazeboon” (Lying Brotherhood) page.

Some activists who were not killed were found brutally beaten and abandoned — tossed aside in the most degrading circumstances.

A week ago, unknown assailants abducted Mohamed Hassanein, administrator of “The official page of the union of revolutionary groups” on Facebook, near his home. He had sent a text message to his friend saying he was being followed after he left his home.

The activist was found, according to the page he runs, on Cairo-Ismailia Road, heavily beaten and wounded.

Observers say other cases of activists being detained and tortured across Delta governorates show a tendency to target those who are less well-known, since their disappearance is unlikely to translate into huge media campaigns.

Police officers allegedly tortured activist Mohamed Maghawry in the northern city of Zagazig in Sharqiya Governorate after arresting him during clashes last week.

“I heard the police officer who ordered my arrest telling the younger conscripts, ‘I want Maghawry.’ He knew me by name and they knew who they were arresting,” Maghawry tells Egypt Independent.

Another case in Sharqiya took place two weeks ago, when lawyer Ahmed Habib was abducted after getting out of a meeting of the National Salvation Front opposition coalition. He was found in front of his home a day later, heavily beaten.

A similar incident took place in the northern city of Mahalla in Gharbiya Governorate, where Mohamed al-Masry was abducted a week ago. According to the Facebook page he runs, “Generation of Change,” a group of six assailants kidnapped Masry after they stormed a shop he owns, destroying it in the process and then bundling him into a microbus.

Masry was found a day later in a huge refuse bin in Sandoob district in Sharqiya, having been heavily beaten and stabbed twice, in the back and leg.

Recent clashes between protesters and police in the Delta city of Mansoura have also involved potential targeting.

A numbers of activists belonging to the Popular Current and members of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party were said to have been targeted and subsequently tortured during their arrests.

Activist Ragy Adel in Mansoura tells Egypt Independent that police informers infiltrated the protests in front of the city’s security directorate and arrested certain activists.

“All those arrested were handpicked from among us. It cannot be random. Most of those arrested were told in the police stations that they were wanted by name,” Adel says.

He adds that many of those arrested and tortured by police were absent for several days before colleagues and family discovered the truth.

Bystanders swept up in wave of security violence

Besides targeting activists, random arrests and torture have been noticed by rights’ advocates as a police practice on the rise. In Alexandria, Ahmed Mamdouh, a lawyer working for Al-Nadeem center, says a new practice of “systematic randomness” is taking place.

Rights groups reported that several random arrests across the last month involved citizens who were not taking part in protests and simply happened to be present near clashes.

The most famous incident was Hassan Shaaban, who was randomly arrested while buying medications from a pharmacy near protests in Semouha district.

Although he mentioned during police investigations that he had diabetes and heart problems, Shabaan was denied access to his medications for several days before he died.

“This is a new targeting policy that aims to frighten the masses. It is not enough for you not to participate in the protests, you should not be near them in the first place, even by chance,” Mamdouh says.

He says at least 400 citizens were randomly arrested nationwide since 20 January.

“About 30 citizens are arrested randomly per protest,” he added.

The rights lawyer says one of the cases involved a man and his wife, where the man was beaten and briefly detained with his wife before their release.

“Ayman Mehanna, one of those citizens who was randomly arrested, recounted after being released from a Central Security Forces camp in Alexandria that he was tortured and physically assaulted along with 50 other citizens in one prison cell,” he says.

Mehanna was told the police were aware he had nothing to do with the protests, and that he would be only released if he signed a paper confessing that he belonged to the Black Bloc, a group of protesters who hide their faces with black masks and who were recently slammed by the government for stirring violence, Mamdouh explains.

“Of course, most citizens refused to sign these papers, so the torture and humiliation continues,” he adds.

Families and locals objecting to police abuse appear to also be victims of targeted violence. A January report by EIPR reveals this new trend.

“Investigations also revealed that police regularly employ torture and firearms against those who attempt to prove police abuses, as was the case with the citizens who were killed by police from the Miyyit Ghamr Police Station on 16 September 2012,” the report states.

“Police forces launched an arrest campaign at coffee shops in the industrial zone, storming shops and verbally and physically assaulting those present, including an elderly woman. When local residents objected and one attempted to file a police report for the assaulted woman, the police tortured him to death inside the police station. Afterwards, when angry locals assembled outside the police station, the force opened fire with automatic rifles, killing one person and seriously injuring another,” the EIPR report further explained.

The rising number of cases and the apparent escalation in the use of violence have left rights activists scrambling to connect the dots and isolate culprits.

“Things were way easier during Mubarak times. We knew it was the state security that was doing it. But now, more security apparatuses are working in Egypt,” Adly, the rights lawyer, says.

He says it is difficult to know whether those responsible are from the police, the intelligence or the Brotherhood.

“It is also difficult to know the exact numbers of those targeted and it is very difficult to find justice because, most of the time, the perpetrators belong to the ruling authority to which we file complaints,” he says.

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