Swift justice and extrajudicial killing: a new trend in law enforcement?

Taha Sakr
17 Min Read

As the funeral of former prosecutor general Hisham Barakat was underway, then justice minister Ahmed Al-Zind decided to cancel the judges’ summer vacation, and said “judges will finish all cases they are working on” and “we will work very hard for retribution for the prosecutor general’s soul”. Shortly after that, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi said the penal code contains “obstacles to judges’ work, mainly in preventing punishment of those who shed Egyptian blood”.

Al-Sisi clearly stated that the law will be amended to serve issued verdicts, particularly the death penalty and life imprisonment.

Since then, the judicial and criminal scenes in Egypt have been witnessing a rise in what human rights activists call “extrajudicial killing”. The trend was observed as a phenomenon to deliver “swift justice” at the scene of arrests. In each case, two narratives are present. One comes from the Ministry of Interior, which claims that the victims were either killed in action or attempted to escape. The other comes from the family members and lawyers of those killed who argue differently, saying that their relatives and clients were detained alive and were shot unarmed by security forces.

After a severe blow to political Islam in Egypt after 3 July 2013, political militancy took hold and was further radicalised after the forced dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in in August 2013, leading thousands of young people to exit electoral politics and head to militancy, whether by protesting and confronting police, targeting officials, being part of local militant groups, or communicating with major extremist entities.

The scene created a wide array of suspects and was accompanied by a rise in attacks on officials, public and private institutions, and security personnel, putting pressure on the Egyptian judicial and penal organisations to find and present the perpetrators to court. Although thousands are standing trial in violence-related cases—in both civilian and military courts—the trend of extrajudicial killings is on the rise, according to human rights workers “to quickly close cases by simply executing the suspects”.

According to a report by the Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR), there were 267 cases of extrajudicial killing by Egyptian security forces in 2015. “In 2015, the Egyptian authorities continued on their bloody path, by developing methods of oppression and repression and expanding this to include a wider sector of Egyptians,” the statement read.

The trend has also been followed by a wave of justification and uncritical reporting by pro-government media outlets, which repeat statements by the Ministry of Interior and quote or host senior security officials to explain the details of the “raids”.

Over the past two years there has been an increasing use of terms in news reporting such as “eliminating” or “avenging a killed police officer” or “bringing justice” to justify the act of murder.

Executive Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) Gamal Eid told Daily News Egypt that using such terms as “eliminating” is in itself a crime, instead of using “a clash that lead to the death of”.

A professor of Arabic language at Cairo University told Daily News Egypt that using the term “eliminating” indicates former surveillance and organisation to kill the mentioned militant. While statements from the Ministry of Interior are usually used for propaganda purposes, as they often include several nationalist and religious lines, these statements have also contained unorganised accusations directed at the dead victims.

The killings—which take place without investigation, trial, or prior warning—target citizens inside their homes when they are sleeping in their beds. In many cases, the police admit that it was doubted that the victims were terrorists or involved in murders.

Daily News Egypt has been monitoring the past and current incidents that include extrajudicial killing of citizens.

Helwan Cell

In 2014, a little-known militant group sprung up in Helwan governorate: the Helwan Brigades. They achieved notoriety after publishing a video in Ezbet El-Walda. A dozen men wearing balaclavas and holding firearms threatened the “Interior Ministry in south Cairo” and expressed their solidarity with killed Muslim Brotherhood protesters, although they maintained that they are not members of the now-banned group.

In February, the Interior Ministry issued a statement in which it stated that four militants who are affiliated to the Cairo-based militant group “Agand Misr” were killed in clashes with a police patrol that was sent to arrest them after receiving information that those four members were involved in terrorist attacks against police conscripts in Helwan and in Sinai.

Eight plainclothes police officers were killed on 8 May in an armed attack that targeted a checkpoint operation near Helwan police station. Investigations have been ongoing since then to discover the identity of the militants who carried out the attack.

Four suspects were killed in a police raid in Damietta on Monday, as the National Security apparatus spearheaded a campaign to arrest more alleged perpetrators in the deadly Helwan attack in May.

The deputy head of Damietta Security Directorate General, Moustafa Moqbel, participated in the raid and was injured in the leg. Three other police officers were injured during an exchange of fire, mostly by shots to the legs, the Ministry of Interior said on Tuesday. The raid was executed after acquiring legal permission from the prosecution, the ministry added.

In preliminarily reports, several state media outlets said that only one suspect was killed and three were arrested, then reporting that only two suspects were killed and two were arrested, before later reporting that three suspects were killed and one was arrested.

Then at 4pm on Monday, the police released an official statement saying that the four suspects were killed in action.

One body was pictured twice, one without a machine gun, and one with the weapon attached to his left hand. The body shown in the picture is laid on a bed, and is covered with blood.

Other photos of the other two bodies were circulated. One of them also can be seen laid out on the floor with a gun in his right hand.

The ministry explained that the dead suspects were involved in the Helwan attack, but did not provide any evidence or give any information about their relation to the incident.

The aftermath of Regeni’s murder

In March, nearly two months after the body of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni was found dumped on a desert road with signs of torture, and amid international pressure to find the murderers, Egyptian authorities suggested that they had possibly uncovered, and killed, Regeni’s killers.

According to Interior Ministry’s statement then, security forces “succeeded in targeting” a criminal gang, near New Cairo which specialised in “impersonating police officers” for the purposes of kidnapping and robbing foreigners living in Egypt.

In fact, the ministry said it killed all four members of the gang, who opened fire at the police during their arrest. The Ministry of Interior announced that it found the Cambridge University PhD student’s belongings in an apartment in Qalyubia, near the capital.

The police said the men were driving a minibus as they neared a security checkpoint, opening fire on security forces.

Local media reports—including state media—then quoted “anonymous” security sources claiming the gang could potentially be linked to the murder of Regeni. Then, they reported that the prosecution authorities denied such ties.

Family members of the dead victims were arrested after they went to the press to tell their side of the story in a video report by journalist Basma Mostafa published on DotMisr news website. The family members of the five “gang members” appear, detailing their professions and legal status, and explaining how the five men were killed and how they were informed of their deaths.

In the video report, the families accused security forces of murdering their relatives without cause and evidence. They also denied all the Interior Ministry’s accusations against the five men.

One family member condemned the incident, saying: “If our son had committed any crime, the ministry had the right to punish him or refer him to court, but not to kill him.”

Cases involving alleged Brotherhood members

In March 2015, Sayed Sharwaay, 43, was reportedly killed by police forces inside his home and in front of his children in the Nahia suburb of Giza governorate. The incident happened during an inspection by police forces who were sent to Sayed’s home as he faced charges of being a member of a terrorist group, namely the Brotherhood, and being involved in violence against state security forces.

Following the assassination of former prosecutor general Hisham Barakat, nine members of the outlawed Brotherhood group were killed in a flat in 6th of October City in July 2015. The Interior Ministry said in a statement issued following the incident that the deceased were planning “the movement of the terrorist group to riot and commit acts of terror during the period coinciding with 30 June Revolution celebrations”.

A representative of the Interior Minister told Daily News Egypt that the deceased had instigated the attack on the forces.

The case of Mohamed Awad

In January 2016, the Brotherhood accused Egyptian security forces of “assassinating” Mohamed Awad, a gynaecologist in Fayoum, as he was leaving his private clinic at night.

While the Ministry of Interior confirmed the incident and that Awad was killed while being arrested by the police, they accused Awad of participating in the Brotherhood-led anti-government protests and for calling on others to attend demonstrations to take place on the fifth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution.

The ministry justified the arrest by saying that Awad was wanted by the State Security Prosecution on charges of inciting violence and for being a member of the now outlawed Brotherhood.

Awad was ambushed by four police officers from the Investigation Bureau and the National Security apparatus by his clinic. Awad was detained and escorted to the police van. He then attempted to escape at which point he was pursued by security forces and shot dead.

The Niger Embassy incident

In August 2015, the Ministry of Interior announced that an attack on the Niger Embassy in Giza on 29 July had left one police conscript dead and three others injured, including an embassy worker. The ministry said that 10 suspects were arrested and that they confessed to belonging to “jihadist groups”; however, the ministry statement did not include the name of the groups.

A propaganda video published by the Ministry of Interior after the arrests announced the death of Magdy Bassiony, who was described by the statement as “the leader of a terrorist cell which is responsible for the Niger Embassy attack”.

Ramadan Bassiony, Magdy’s brother, told Daily News Egypt that his brother was detained by the police on 5 August. On the same day, Ramadan says he received a call confirming that Magdy was killed.

“He was kidnapped from his house, and then the government [the police] called me and told me Magdy died,” Ramadan said, adding that “during the attack on the embassy Magdy was in Al-Ayat village”.

However, the Ministry of Interior accused Magdy of attacking security forces guarding the Niger Embassy in Giza. “He fired at the forces, who fired back, and then he was killed,” the ministry added.

Avenging Jessy?

In August 2013, the Ministry of Interior announced that a police officer’s daughter and the officer’s lawyer friend had been killed in a drive-by shooting in Fayoum. Over the next two weeks, seven people would be killed without trial, with the police justifying the killings as “avenging Jessy”.

Described by state media and pro-army and police channels as “the youngest martyr of terrorism”, 10-year-old Jessy Bolus Issa was used to justify the subsequent killings, despite a lack of clear investigations or evidence.

On 6 August 2015, as President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi stood by the banks of the new $8bn Suez Canal channel and spoke to other world leaders, five men were shot dead by the Egyptian police in a village called Sanoris, in the agricultural governorate of Fayoum.

Photos of the five men, lying prostrate and close together, began to circulate across local social media. Their bodies were bloody and disfigured, showing signs of bullet holes and apparent signs of torture, with one man appearing to have a severed arm.

Later, pro-government media caught on to a story published by the tabloid newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabaa that reported local police as saying that the men were militant Islamists and were targeted at a farm in Sanoris by security forces. A shoot-out is said to have ensued and all five died, with no police officers reported as injured.

Hassan Elwany, a nephew of one of the victims, told Daily News Egypt that his uncle and four companions were praying at the family-owned farm in Sanoris, when they were raided by Special Anti-Terror Forces and were arrested and bound.

“When word spread about the raid, my uncles [brothers of one of the victims] went to the farm to check on the men, they were also arrested and tied up,” Hassan said. The five men were blindfolded and shot, after two hours of torture, Hassan said.

“They kept moving the bodies around the farm and took pictures of them, while putting weapons around them,” he added.

The Ministry of Interior press office told Daily News Egypt: “the operation was conducted with the permission of the prosecution. When the forces started to attack the individuals, they responded by opening fire and were killed. The raid is part of the minister’s orders to establish pre-emptive strikes to stop terrorism.”

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