Thirteen hundred people have died in Egypt since the unseating of former President Mohamed Morsi by the Armed Forces on 3 July, a Human Rights Watch report stated on Saturday.
The report listed a number of incidents when it said security forces had used “disproportionate force” mainly with Morsi supporters, leading to civilian deaths. Such events included the Republican Guard Clashes on 8 July, the Al-Nasr Road clashes on 27 July, the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in on 14 August, and the clashes on 6 October in Dokki and near Ramses Street.
“In dealing with protest after protest, Egyptian security forces escalate quickly and without warning to live ammunition, with deadly results,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
During the 6 October clashes, which left 57 civilians dead, police forces unjustifiably resorted to firing live ammunition at protesters, Human Rights Watch said. The Ministry of Interior announced on that day that it had arrested 423 of those who participated in the clashes and “attacked citizens”. The ministry claimed those arrested were in possession of firearms.
Human Rights Watch nevertheless said it obtained evidence which indicated that police gunfire was the cause of death of most of those killed during the clashes. The organisation added that while some “residents” clashed with protesters supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, the former were armed with sticks and knives and appeared to be “acting in cooperation with the police.” Police forces also fired teargas and rubber bullets before using live ammunition without issuing warnings, according to Human Rights Watch.
The watchdog organisation interviewed 23 witnesses of the clashes, all of whom reportedly denied observing any protesters using or carrying firearms before the police opened fire. Witnesses reported that some protesters attacked police forces with stones and Molotov cocktails.
Ministry of Interior Spokesman Hany Abdel Latif described Human Rights Watch’s report as “unfounded allegations”.
“The clashes were caught on tape,” Abdel Latif said. “All news outlets reported them.”
Abdel Latif said the ministry has been following the same procedures in handling protests since 2011. “If the protests are peaceful, we secure them, and if they stray from peacefulness, we use teargas.”
The spokesman added that if the protesters are armed, police resort to the use of live ammunition in facing them.
Human Rights Watch said that security forces resorted to “wide-scale lethal force” on 6 October at a speed which was not seen since the forcible dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins in Greater Cairo on 14 August. Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi told private-owned daily Al-Masry Al-Youm during an interview in September that he believes 1,000 people were killed on 14 August, while official figures suggest a smaller death toll.
The watchdog organisation widely criticised the lack of any investigation into the use of firearms by security forces, especially during the 6 October clashes. It stated that Egypt ratified several human rights treaties which oblige it to safeguard the right of peaceful assembly and prohibit the use of firearms “except in self-defence or defence of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.”
“That Egyptian police are using excessive lethal force is nothing new, but now they open fire as if they do not fear being held to account,” Stork said. “Thirteen hundred people have died since July. What will it take for the authorities to rein in security forces or even set up a fact-finding committee into their use of deadly force?”
Human Rights Watch pointed out that judicial authorities held security services to account only once since Morsi’s ouster. The organisation referred to the prosecution four police officers held responsible for the death of at least 37 detainees on 18 August. The detainees died after the officers fired a teargas canister into the locked van transporting them to Abu Zaabal prison, according to the Ministry of Interior.
Stork said the trial of the four police officers showed that Egypt is “capable of holding security forces accountable.” He called for adopting the same mechanism in dealing with police officers who “open fire on largely peaceful demonstrators.”
The organisation called on interim President Adly Mansour to set-up a fact-finding committee to look into all the acts of violence which took place during the past three months. It also called on military and civilian authorities to “publicly order security forces to adhere to standards consistent with the United Nations Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement.”
Human Rights Watch urged countries to halt any transfer of small arms, light weapons and related ammunition to Egypt, fearing that security forces might use such items “to commit human rights violations involving use of excessive and indiscriminate lethal force against protesters and in dispersing crowds.”
“Until Egypt’s military rulers take strong steps to rein in the police force, the killing of protesters will continue,” Stork said.
The Anti-Coup Alliance called on all Egyptians to gather outside the court where Morsi’s trial is set to be held at a police institute in Tora on Monday. The alliance is made up of political movements who are against the ouster of Morsi, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abdel Latif said there is a comprehensive security plan for Monday and that security is on alert in all governorates and on all highways. He added that security forces will deal with protesters on Monday using the same procedures they have adopted since 2011 and according to the laws.