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Remembering the Maspero massacre: one year on

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A closer look at the massacre, and the unserved justice

Coptic Christian protesters congregate outside the Maspero state media offices in November 2011 Hassan Ibrahim / DNE

Coptic Christian protesters congregate outside the Maspero state media offices in November 2011
Hassan Ibrahim / DNE

 

The families of the Maspero massacre victims commemorated their lost loved ones this week. On Wednesday 3 October, they were invited by the church to attend a liturgy held by acting patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Pachomious, at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasseya.

On the 9 October, the families mark the one-year anniversary in a memorial at the Church of the Apostles Peter and Paul next to the cathedral in Abbasseya.

This memorial marks the one year anniversary of the day that thousands of demonstrators were shot at and ran over by tanks during a peaceful protest requesting the right for Copts to worship in peace.

“We live in torture each passing day for the loss of our families,” said George Mosaad, the son of Mosaad Mahny Mosaad, who died in the Maspero massacre. “What adds to our torture is that justice has still not been served for those victims.”

“The average Egyptians should always remember that innocent souls had taken to the streets demanding their rights only to be met by attacks from the army they thought would protect them,” Mosaad said.

Morsy came under fire by attendees for not condemning the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for their role in the massacre, “if President Morsy has acquitted the SCAF of this massacre, then he’s responsible for telling us who’s responsible for running our families over,” said Jan Girgis, relative of a victim.

Girgis added many of his Coptic friends are considering emigration due to their inability to cope with the fate of the massacre’s victims.

A march similar to the one in which the massacre occurred a year ago, is being planned by the Maspero Youth Union.

The UMVF however, has distanced itself from the youth union, alleging the MYU is “corrupt and suspicious.”

One year ago

The massacre occurred during a peaceful march last year from the Shubra district of Cairo to the headquarters of the Egyptian Radio and Television Union, known as the Maspero building. The protestors were mainly Coptic Christians, although others joined in solidarity.

They were protesting the demolition of eighty year-old St George’s church in Aswan. Salafis in the region had argued for the removal of the loudspeakers and steeples from the church, which the Christians refused to do. Discussions broke down and resulted in a group of men destroying the church. The governor and security forces of Aswan were accused of allowing the demolition to take place illegally, but governor claimed the church had been built without a permit.

An Egyptian man throws back a teargas canister fired by policemen as hundreds of Coptic Christians marched in Cairo on 17 November 2011 to demand justice for the Christian victims of the massacre at Maspero the previous month  AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

An Egyptian man throws back a teargas canister fired by policemen as hundreds of Coptic Christians marched in Cairo on 17 November 2011 to demand justice for the Christian victims of the massacre at Maspero the previous month
AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

The protest also objected to the fact that in Egypt non-Muslims are required to ask for a permit to build a house of worship.

Video footage of the march shows that army troops opened fire on protesters and used military vehicles in an attempt to disperse the demonstration. The protestors then begin to throw stones and set a military vehicle on fire. The Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights (EIPR) reported that finally, “events took a final twist at around 9pm when people in civilian clothes joined the army’s assault on protesters.”

State television and radio at the time of the massacre said a mob had violently attacked the station and thugs had been killing army personnel on the streets, claiming foreign hands were funding the violence.

However a Human Rights Watch statement on the events asserted “at least two APCs were driven recklessly through crowds of demonstrators, in some cases appearing to pursue the demonstrators intentionally. The evidence overwhelmingly suggested that the protest of thousands of Copts had been peaceful until the point that the APCs were driven through the crowds, and that the military’s subsequent response to violence by some of the demonstrators was disproportionate.”

The Egyptian, the El Nadim Center for the Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, issued a statement saying those arrested at Maspero had been beaten and subjected to insults and humiliation. According to El Nadim, some detainees claimed that they were taken by the military police into the Maspero building, and subjected to severe beatings by military police and civilians. The statement noted “the bruises and wounds were noticeable on the defendants the following day when they were brought to military prosecution.”

When the dust settled amidst the flurry of conflicting reports from various national and international media outlets, it emerged that at least 23 protestors and one military officer lost their lives and 212 were injured. There are conflicting reports of how many people actually died, EIPR believe it was 28, but state news agency MENA reported 24.

Reactions

EIPR condemned the trials of those arrested in the massacre in the strongest of terms, saying, “the trial lacks the most basic guarantees of fair trial and justice. It is the latest iteration of the position of SCAF, which denied and continues to deny any responsibility for this horrific crime.”

The Maspero Youth Union, which was formed after the massacre, said the event was reminiscent of “Chinese authorities suppress[ing] student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, crushing them with tanks in 1989. Or when an Israeli army bulldozer ran over an American peace activist, Rachel Corrie, who defended a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip in 2003.”

The group also condemned the fact that the massacre was “seen by the entire world and recorded by international TV channels, while the state owned Egyptian television, incited sectarian strife, by claiming [falsely] that the protesters – Copts specifically – were shooting at the army.”

Responding at the time, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayyib, said that the massacre was not an indicator of sectarian tension, adding that there is no sectarian tension in Egypt, MENA reported.

Tayyib called on SCAF and the Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Kamal Al-Ganzouruy, who were in charge of the country at the time, to resolve the problems related to the building of churches which caused these tragic events.

Still no justice

A year after the Maspero massacre, families of victims say they are still waiting for justice.

“We have full faith in divine justice, yet the judiciary has done nothing for our cause,” Mosaad said. “Humans were used as road bumps and at the end of the day the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) is acquitted of all offences,” said Mosaad.

 Thousands of Egyptians protest outside the state television headquarters demanding the "cleansing" of state media, which they accuse of incitement against the protesters (File photo)  AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI

Thousands of Egyptians protest outside the state television headquarters demanding the “cleansing” of state media, which they accuse of incitement against the protesters (File photo)
AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI

Jan Girgis, the brother of another Maspero massacre victim, Sameh Girgis, added, “the armed forces used our tanks in killing us and running us over. Tanks which are there supposedly to protect us.”

No military commander has been put on trial, let alone convicted, of any wrongdoing.

Instead, only three conscripts were tried in a military court, for a manslaughter misdemeanour. Two soldiers received a two-year prison sentence and the third got three years.

“We asked for armament records as evidence in the case and the military court told us we did not have the right to such information. The same went for the numbers and names of those who man the APCs,” said Mosaad.

He added that the court eventually found there was no murder “due to a lack of evidence” and that witnesses were required to identify soldiers even though at the time of the clashes the soldiers were inside APCs and the witnesses could not have seen them.

“This is a crime of premeditated murder, and it is not three soldiers who did it. There were at least three APCs on the scene, each of which require more than just one man to drive,” said Mosaad.

The main issue with the Maspero massacre investigations, according to human rights activist and lawyer, Nabil Ghabrial, is that the military judiciary was handling the case.

“The military judiciary here is both the judge and defendant,” said Ghabrial. He added that a member of the military prosecutor told him there was no way an officer was going to send his commander, in this case Tantawi, to prison.

Military prosecutors and judges are usually officers. They are appointed and could be dismissed by the commander-in-chief. Ghabrial said this was a clear conflict of interest.

“The case should be handled by the normal [civilian] judiciary but the military judiciary is using Military Trials Law 25 of 1966 of which Articles 6 and 48 allow it to decide for itself which cases fall under its jurisdiction,” said Ghabrial.

As a result, Ghabrial filed a conflict of jurisdiction case with the Supreme Constitutional Court demanding the court rule on which body has jurisdiction over the case and assign it to a third judicial body.

Although the Supreme Constitutional Court is still viewing the case and has asked a commission to prepare a report on the matter, the military judiciary went ahead with the case. This is despite the fact that legally when there is a conflict of jurisdiction case both judicial bodies are required to cease all legal proceedings until jurisdiction is resolved.

“What the military judiciary tried to do is come up with a verdict as soon as possible so that the case could not be opened again by any other judicial bodies under the concept of double jeopardy, which means a defendant cannot be tried twice for the same crime,” Ghabrial said.

In response to the military court’s verdict, Ghabrial filed another case with the Administrative Judiciary Court demanding all investigations and verdicts by the military judiciary regarding the case be rendered null and void, as the military court had ignored the conflict of jurisdiction case with the Supreme Constitutional Court and went on with investigations.

He also demands the administrative court oblige the justice minister to form an investigation committee composed of three civilian judges and assign them to interrogate Tantawi, Badeen and all other members of the SCAF. A court date has been set for 30 October.

Ghabrial also filed cases on behalf of five victims’ families demanding EGP 1 million in compensation as well as moral compensation, requiring the state to honour the victims.

“Of course no amount of money can compensate them for the loss of their loved ones but it will count as at least an admittance that these people are martyrs,” he said.

Finally, he said that the victims have given him authority to take the case to international courts.

Protesters pray during a sit-in outside of the Maspero state media in January 2012 Hassan Ibrahim / DNE

Protesters pray during a sit-in outside of the Maspero state media in January 2012
Hassan Ibrahim / DNE

“Due to the Egyptian police and judiciary’s inability to find out who killed the martyrs, especially since the APCs ran over 15 people but there were a further eight who were shot dead that the military court did not even mention, we will soon take steps towards taking the case into the realm of international law to achieve justice,” he said.

According to Mosaad, the victims’ families have filed a total of 18 cases, accusing Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces at the time; Lieutenant General Sami Anan, the chief of staff at the time; and Hamdy Badeen, the military police chief of the time, as well as the field commander on the day, of premeditated murder.

In the aftermath of the massacre, the minister of justice at the time also commissioned a civilian judge, Tharwat Hammad, to investigate the case.

Hammad found that both Coptic protestors and soldiers were at fault and several Coptic protestors, including Mina Daniel who was actually killed in the clashes, were referred to the prosecution, although most were immediately released.

Morsy’s reaction

Mosaad said that he was still waiting for President Mohamed Morsy to fulfil his promise of “avenging the martyrs.” In the first days of his presidency, Morsy formed a fact-finding committee tasked with investigating all deaths related to the 25 January uprising and the transitional period under SCAF’s rule that followed it.

Ghabrial is not hopeful, however. He believes the committee is just a political ploy.

“This committee is an administrative committee being used for political purposes, as evidenced by their ordering of the public prosecution to retry [former President Hosni] Mubarak even though they do not have the authority to order the prosecution to do anything. I don’t think they will be able to help in this case either.”

Still waiting

Last year at the funeral for those killed in the Maspero massacre, the late Pope Shenouda III spoke to a gathering of Coptic Orthodox leaders and family members. Mourning the martyrs and appealing for peace, he said “Copts feel that their problems are being repeated without holding the perpetrators accountable, or applying the law, or even presenting solutions for these problems.”

One year on, Metropolitan Pachomius of Beheira, commiserated the ongoing lack of justice at the commemoration of the massacre’s anniversary, “these are the martyrs of these times and we can’t forget them” he said, “we are living a new era of martyrdom.”


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