Activists and supporters of Internet freedom in Egypt have described to Human Rights First different measures the Egyptian authorities take to control the activities of people accessing the Internet, but as of last week, it seems they have reached a whole new level. A young man was dragged out of an Internet café and beaten to death after refusing to show his ID card to police.
Patrons of Internet cafés are often required to provide identification details before logging on, and then their searches and activities online can be monitored. Police officers carry out random raids on Internet cafés and gather identification information from those present, even though there is no justification in Egyptian law for this kind of demand.
On the evening of June 7, 2010 what appeared to be one of these random raids escalated into the horrific brutalization of a young man by two policemen. Reports now reveal that the man may have been targeted for exposing police corruption. He posted a video on the internet depicting officers sharing the profits of a drug bust.
One thing that distinguishes this incident from other incidents of government intimidation of bloggers and activists is that it was carried out in plain view, and other citizens were able to capture and transmit images of police brutality before they could be confiscated. As human rights defenders in Egypt have told us, the government’s usual approach is to brutalize activists/netizens after detaining them and to hold them in custody until the bruises have disappeared. Gamal Eid, lawyer and Executive Director for Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, has said that with respect to bloggers and Internet activists, the government will find reasons to “kidnap them, torture them, take their passport and send them to prison until the hurts on their body become normal so for us there is no evidence of what happened.”
Here are the facts of this tragic case: Khaled Mohamed Saeed, 28, was at an Internet café that he frequented in the Sidi Gaber district of Alexandria when two officers from the local police station entered the café and demanded to see everyone’s ID cards, claiming that they were authorized to do this under the Emergency Law, a law that has been condemned by international human rights organizations and Egyptian activists as allowing security forces to commit abuses with near impunity.
Khaled objected to what he saw as a violation of his rights. There are various reports of what happened next. One press report mentions that the police bound Khaled’s hands and started to beat him, others just describe the beating. Police officers knelt over him beating his head against the marble floor tiles of the café. Khaled was then dragged outside the Internet café, covered in blood, and the beating continued in full view of many witnesses, some of whom pleaded with police to stop. Two doctors even tried to help. Eyewitnesses said his head was banged against an iron door, steps and walls of an adjacent building. He was thrown into a police vehicle, and fifteen minutes later, his gruesomely disfigured dead body was deposited in the street.
Police cordoned off the area, barring patrons from the Internet café, and then passed through the crowd reportedly confiscating cellphones on which people had been taking photographs and shooting video of the beating. Some of these images have appeared online.
Khaled’s family filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Alexandria. Hundreds of protestors have taken to the streets calling for a prosecution in this case. Security forces have responded with further brutality and arrests and in some cases attempted to ban media and journalists from the scene.
Human Rights First is joining with Egyptian human rights activists and bloggers and calling for a prompt, thorough investigation into the brutal killing of Khaled Mohamed Saeed. Those responsible need to be brought to justice.
Human Rights First also calls upon the United States government to defend citizen access to the Internet by expressing strong concern regarding this incident to the Egyptian government.
Egyptians should be able to access the Internet in cybercafés free from harassment and intimidation—when an online post or a random ID check turns into a murder, it is an entirely different problem, and just can’t stand.
For more information, see:
- Video depicting security officers aggressively confronting protestors following the death of Khaled Saeed.
- Egyptian Democratic Academy campaign video depicting Khaled Saeed as a martyr following his death.
- “The brutal killing of Khaled: **Viewer discretion is advised**, June 10, 2010″ blog summarizes accounts including the Facebook post of opposition leader, Ayman Nour and an article in al-shorouk newspaper that describe how Khaled Saeed was brutally beaten by police at an Internet café for refusing to comply with an inspection under the national emergency law and noting that police are trying to avoid liability for the death.
- A news article reporting on the death of Khaled Saeed at the hands of police for failing to comply with their request for identification at an Internet café and noting that police are saying Saeed was using narcotics.