Egyptian police accused of murdering protester as deaths mount

Egyptian police accused of murdering protester as deaths mount
5 min read
26 January, 2015
The testimony of a lawyer who witnessed Shimaa al-Sabbagh's death in a protest blames the police for her death.
Hundreds protested at Sabbagh's funeral in Alexandria on Sunday [Anadolu]
Egyptian lawyer Azza Suleiman has accused the police of murdering Shimaa al-Sabbagh, as the death toll of those killed in demonstrations commemorating the January 25 revolution reached 20 by Sunday night.

Sabbagh died on Saturday from gunshot wounds sustained during a protest staged by the Socialist Popular Alliance Party in the downtown area.

According to a statement issued by the Egyptian Observatory for Rights and Freedoms (EORF), the army and police forces stepped up their violations against protesters across ten provinces in the late afternoon. The EORF reported that security forces arrested 221 men and women. Some 35 women were later released.

EORF also reported that the number of protesters injured on Sunday rose to 168, including 43 in critical condition, in Kafr al-Sheikh, Minia, Alexandria, Cairo, and Giza. Meanwhile, 11 injuries were reported among the ranks of the army and police forces.

Sabbagh's death
I saw someone lying on the ground... I saw it was a woman and I saw some blood. I did not see her face.
- Azza Suleiman

Al-Araby al-Jadeed has obtained a copy of Suleiman's testimony. It states that Suleiman was in the downtown area where the incidents took place by chance. Suleiman, 48, related she had been having lunch at the Rish Restaurant with her family and friends.

At 3:30pm, she heard a protest approaching. She saw a number of people she recognised among the 25 to 30 participants, all carrying roses.

"I saw Mr Helmi Shaarawi, Talaat Fahmy, Ilham al-Mirghani and others from the Popular Alliance Party," the testimony reads. "I greeted some of them and we laughed together. Then they moved to the opposite pavement to Talaat Harb Square and I went to take some pictures.

"The police came after that, the police cars' sirens blaring. They approached the protesters. Some of the police officers were masked and they carried long black rifles."

She said the police arrived in large numbers, disproportionate to the number of protesters.

According to Suleiman's testimony, "my son Nadim came to me and said: 'Please come with me, they are going to be assaulted. I have seen this many times before.' I told him: 'No way. If it's about [tear] gas I'm used to it.' I had barely finished my sentence when bullets and gas canisters were fired. Everyone started running with the police behind us on the other pavement outside Rish Restaurant".

She said the police fired pellets and gas canisters within minutes of the protesters' chants starting. When the police assault against the demonstration started, she said, the protesters were chased down Talaat Harb Street.

"I saw someone lying on the ground," she said. "I did not know whether it was a young man or a young woman, until I moved to the alley adjacent to Rish. I saw it was a woman and I saw some blood. I did not see her face. Someone near her was screaming for an ambulance as a masked armed officer approached them.

"The woman's friends took her to an ambulance, but I don't know any details. The police were like locusts on Talaat Harb Street, chasing after people. I saw them arrest two young men that I did not recognise."

Arrested for her testimony

Suleiman started writing down what happened.

"Friends called me to check I was okay. I asked them to find out what happened to the woman who was injured, if they knew her. On my way home, a friend called me to tell me Talaat Fahmy was okay. Then she called me again to tell me the woman had died and that Talaat was in custody in the Qasr al-Nil precinct with others."

I could not believe the woman was dead. She had died within minutes. I went to the Zeinhom morgue. It was a terrible sight.
- Azza Suleiman

The lawyer wrote: "I left the house again. I could not believe the woman was dead. She had died within minutes. I went to the Zeinhom morgue. It was a terrible sight. I know most of her friends, all young activists. They were screaming and wailing. I learned that the martyred woman had a four or five-year-old son."

A lawyer approached and asked if Suleiman if she would testify to what happened. Her group, accompanied by lawyers and witnesses from the Popular Alliance party, turned up at the Abdeen prosecutor's office.

The chief prosecutor met them, taking their documents and bar membership cards. More than five hours later, she was called to give testimony, along with Ahmed Ragheb.

After the interrogation, she said she was surprised when the prosecutor started treating her "like a criminal". She said she was interrogated as such, and that the prosecutor said she had been arrested at the prosecutor's office.

"He started writing details about my age, appearance, clothes, height," she said.

When Suleiman objected and said this was unlawful, she said the prosecutor said things she described were illegal, illogical, and puzzling.

The police report was read. Suleiman said it stated the protest was unlicensed and claimed protesters had used stones and resisted and attacked the police. The report claimed the police used water to disperse the protesters but they resisted.

She was asked what her statement was, to which she responded that the whole police report was a lie and a fabrication, and she restated her account of events. Suleiman was subsequently released.

Concluding her testimony, she said that the regime was determined to intimidate and silence all voices, even those who stand as honest witnesses to facts; that all laws and agencies were being bent to consolidate the power of the regime; any individual or group that tried to express any grievances against the regime or assisted or supported others subjected to injustice would be punished.

Suleiman noted that, after midnight, when she was arguing with the chief prosecutor over the delay in taking her statement, he told her to leave if she wanted to - in other words, she was free to go - until she gave her testimony.

"I don't know what my legal status is in the case in which I accused the Interior Ministry of killing Shimaa Sabbagh," she said.

Suleiman concluded: "An accidental witness becomes the accused. This only happens in tyrannical police states like Egypt."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.