The Cairo Criminal Court adjourned the trial session for two National Security officers to 15 October, in the torture case of Matariya lawyer Kareem Hamdy, who died in prison on 24 February.
According to Lawyers’ Syndicate North Cairo representative Mohamed Osman, the hearing session lasted for over three hours. The court listened to the testimony of Hazem Hossam El-Din, head of the Forensic Medicine Authority, as autopsy reports proved several injuries in different parts of the bodies which led to haemorrhages.
Hamdy was hit in the chest, causing a tearing in the lung and breaking of the ribs, with severe bleeding, according to the testimony published by state news agency MENA on Saturday. Moreover, Hamdy bled suffered haemorrhages in the heart and testicles.
“The timing of death was difficult to determine amid more than one factor that led to the death besides the various physical assaults, including a delay in the patient’s medical examination and autopsy,” Hossam El-Din added.
The court further questioned Major Mahmoud Abdullah, who was the head of the Matariya police station when and where the incident took place. As reported by state media, Abdullah said that National Security staff could interrogate suspects on their own, without the necessary presence of the police station’s investigations officers.
Civil rights lawyers defending Hamdy believe that security forces are trying to exchange accusations, as the defence team for the defendants is hoping to prove that the two officers were not the ones who tortured Hamdy to death.
“The officers are being tried according to article 126 of the Penal Code,” Ashraf Zaky, Lawyers’ Syndicate representative in El-Marg told Daily News Egypt Sunday. “But everybody keeps forgetting that the law does not only punish the perpetrator but also those who ordered torture.”
Moreover, Osman explained that the law states that strict prison terms is the penalty for torture, but that in case of death as a result of torture, the perpetuator faces the same charges of first degree murder, which is the death penalty.
Officers Omar Mahmoud Hamad and Mohamed Al-Anwar Mohamadein are on trial, but they are not in police custody, but are banned from travelling, following a court decision in June to release them on bail. “The freedom of the defendants influences the case by making them in a position of power and possibly interfering with eyewitnesses’ interrogations,” Zaky said.
The main eyewitness to the case
The court heard the testimony of Abdul Ghany Ibrahim, the suspect who was detained along with Hamdy inside the Matariya police station. The suspect denied that the two officers were the ones who questioned them, despite stating that National Security investigations often involved his beating.
The suspect said he was arrested while visiting a friend near the National Security court in the Fifth Settlement. He is 18 years-old and comes from Qaliubiya governorate, part of the Greater Cairo City.
According to Rajia Omran, whom Hamdy’s family requested among the defence team representing the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), his testimony is unreliable. “The boy was shaky and his answers contradicted previous testimonies,” she told Daily News Egypt.
Similarly, Zaky said he was positive the eyewitness was threatened and pressured several times. “Ibrahim said that two investigations’ officers tortured him. As he named them, we asked the judge to call them in for a testimony.”
Hamdy was arrested two days before his killing, after security forces claimed another suspect had revealed his name as “an active member of the Muslim Brotherhood”. The suspect, named Abdel Ghany Ibrahim, was also reportedly the one who ‘confessed on Hamdy”.
The officers allegedly beat Hamdy to obtain a confession from him, which they did. A video was released showing Hamdy confessing to protests and ‘terrorist crimes’. He appeared in a video, standing next to another suspect – possibly Abdel Ghany – and in front of them table full of weapons, allegedly belonging to them.
“I didn’t know his name is Abdel Ghany, everybody called him Mahmoud,” Hamdy said in the video. He explained that he had been lying in the hospital due to an operation in the leg that prevented him from moving. “So I gave orders to Mahmoud who visited me at the hospital to participate in armed protests and attack security forces,” Hamdy said.
Most of Hamdy’s statements were vague; he insisted he could not move, and that he did not “precisely” know what ‘Mahmoud’ was doing. He seemed to be approving whatever accusations communicated by police officers questioning him, whom were heard in the background of the video.
However, Omran pointed out that she was concerned regarding the eyewitness, who remains held at the Matariya police station, amid Egypt’s lack of any kind of eyewitness protection programmes.
“Assuming the officers on trial are the real perpetuators and that Hamdy was tortured to death in the Matariya police station, how can the court accept his testimony, knowing there is a high chance he was subject to pressure inside the police station?” Omran said.
She added that during the trial, the boy who seems to be illiterate had a difficulty in understanding the judge’s formal language. “He keeps changing his words, and let’s not forget that suspects are usually blindfolded in those kind of situations during interrogations,” she stated.
Lawyers’ scepticism highlighted in case
Lawyer Rajia Omran attended Saturday’s session and observed several court procedures that she described as ‘odd’.
“For example, the two defendants were staying in the cage but its door was open and even though they remained inside, they could still access the outside world, which is rather unusual,” Omran told Daily News Egypt Sunday.
Omran said that also lawyers for the defendants were treated ‘differently’ from Hamdy’s civil rights lawyers. “They used a side door to the courtroom and did not register their names with security at the entrance, like we did. They also keep their mobile phones, which we are not allowed to carry inside,” Omran said.
Omran added that although she believes the testimony of the head of the police station is useless because he had not really witnessed anything, it could be aimed at rescuing interrogation officers at the police station from facing charges.
“I also think the defendants’ lawyers want to prove it was not them who tortured Hamdy, even though I am quite sure that such things happen under the sponsoring of the station’s officers, and possibly their presence in the torture room,” Omran said.
Meanwhile, Zaky said he was not sceptical of the judge’s neutrality in this case, but rather of different security bodies such as the police station and National Security. “This is proven by the detention of Hamdy’s lawyer since the date of death and until now by the Matariya police station, because he refused to sign a police report saying Hamdy had died as a result of low blood pressure.”
In a rather outraged tone, Zaky added that Hamdy’s lawyer was now facing the same ‘terrorist charges’. On a further note, he said the judge was unlikely to allow them to question the two investigation officers the eyewitness mentioned.
“However, there is strong evidence against the defendants, based on the medical report, and the testimonies of all the station’s officers that Hamdy was in the hands of National Security right before he was killed,” Zaky said.