By Sarah Carr
ALEXANDRIA: The trial of two policemen implicated in the death of Khaled Saeid continued Saturday, amidst allegations that security bodies are undermining court proceedings.
A tight security cordon of riot police and plain-clothed officers entirely sealed off the entrance to the courthouse. Members of the media attempting to enter were told that they needed a permit from the head of the court – but were prevented from entering the courthouse in order to apply for this permit.
There was pushing and shoving between police officers and lawyers unconnected to the Khaled Saeid case who were prevented from entering the courthouse. Even relatives of Saeid – whose death in June galvanised criticism of police violence – said that they had had problems in getting into the courtroom
“We entered the courtroom with difficulty. Witnesses were prevented from entering. That’s in addition to the insults thrown at us: ‘You Jews, You infidels’”, Saeid’s sister Zahra told Daily News Egypt, speaking in the Saeid family home after the trial.
A pro-government paper had alleged that Saeid’s brother converted to Judaism; implying that this confirms he’s a foreign agent as the paper claimed.
Sally Sami, a regional campaign coordinator with Amnesty International who was meant to be observing the trial but who herself was denied entry described security body interference in the trial through its refusal to let in witnesses as “extremely worrying”.
Friends of Saeid, as well as witnesses to the 28-year-old’s death have reported intimidation and threats by the police in the wake of a huge public outcry to a posthumous photograph of Saeid’s badly deformed skull taken in a morgue and published online.
Activists seized on the case as yet another example of the police brutality which rights group say is systematic and endemic in Egypt. The Ministry of Interior meanwhile has presented Saeid as a cannabis-using criminal who evaded doing his military service.
Two autopsy reports — one of which was performed on Saeid’s exhumed body — have upheld the interior ministry’s version of events that Saeid died after choking on a plastic drug wrap he swallowed upon being approached by policemen Awad Ismail Suleiman and Mahmoud Salah Mahmoud.
Prosecution lawyers on Saturday requested that the drug wrap be produced for the court to examine.
A damning independent assessment of the autopsy reports, written by two international forensic experts and published by the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Violence in July, found that the autopsies contained “numerous significant deficiencies”.
Prosecution lawyers say that this report will be entered into evidence.
Eyewitnesses have testified to seeing Suleiman and Mahmoud viciously assaulting Saied on the evening of June 6 after apprehending him in an internet café near his home. The eyewitnesses say that Saied died at the scene, as a result of the assault.
Suleiman and Mahmoud have been charged with misuse of force. The court refused a request to release them on bail on Saturday.
Police supporters put forward the interior ministry’s version of events both inside and courtroom on Saturday. Around 100 men were allowed to gather on the steps of the courthouse where they held up a banner reading, “why are we waging war on the police … Is the aim to spread chaos?” Some of the men wore t-shirts on which was printed, “The truth is the most important. Who is Khaled Said?!?”
Belly-dancing, and hitting what was presented as a mug shot of Saied in prison the raucous group of protestors chanted “here is the drug user” and described a group of pro-Saied demonstrators on the other side of a police cordon as “Jews”, “foreign agents” and “drug users”.
The police supporters launched missiles at the other group of protestors, including wooden sticks.
Psychiatrist and head of the Nadeem Center Aida Seif El-Dawla, who took part in the pro-Saied demonstration, described Saturday’s events as a “disgrace for the ruling party. They wanted those people to pose as the citizens of Alexandria. They could have done a better job”.
Seif El-Dawla said that the protestors’ “swearing and spitting at” an image of Saied “is so out of line with Egyptian and Islamic culture and tradition, where you do not defame a dead person no matter what the extent of the animosity towards the deceased.”
The Nadeem psychiatrist cited chants involving the name of the head of the Alexandria security directorate, and the fact that at the end of the demonstration they were dismissed in rows “like any central security soldiers” as evidence that they were mobilised by the interior ministry.
The protestors themselves refused to talk to the press, who were prevented from approaching them by the police cordon.
According to the Saied family there was a similar scene inside the courtroom.
“The courtroom was full of police informants. They left us one bench and were tightly surrounding us,” Khaled Saied’s mother said, adding that at the back of the room a group of people “launched insults at the family, as if we were prey fallen into their grasp and they were about to eat us”.
“The defendants were holding up copies of El-Watan newspaper while pointing at me,” she continued. The paper on Saturday published a mug shot of an individual it alleges is Khaled Saeid with the headline “A picture of Khaled Saeid in prison: The drug addict who misleading people have transformed into a national hero”.
She added that while members of the press who had been able to enter the courtroom were banned from filming and taking photographs, the individuals she alleges were police supporters were taking photographs freely.
Asked what the response of the judge to this, Khaled’s mother said, “The judge? He appeared for five minutes and then left. He didn’t see anything. As soon as he came out they stopped”.
Khaled’s sister, Zahra, meanwhile said, “For the first time in my life I saw newspapers being handed out inside a courtroom. Even the defendants were sitting inside reading the newspaper while smoking a cigarette”.
Pro-Saeid demonstrators were manhandled and some of them forcibly placed in police microbuses at the end of the demonstration.
“Although it was not the most violent demonstration I have attended, it was definitely the ugliest. I felt that every time you think [the ruling regime] have reached the limit they prove that their decadence has no limits,” Seif El-Dawla said.
The trial resumes on Oct. 23.