By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt – Two policemen accused of beating twenty-eight year old Khalid Said to death outside a café in Alexandria in June attended the first court hearing in their trial, which was postponed until September 25.
Mahmoud Salah and Awad Ismail Suleiman have been accused of use of excessive force and unlawful arrest. They stood in cages during yesterday’s hearing in an Alexandria criminal court.
The case that has sparked international outrage began when the two plainclothes officers dragged Said out of an Internet café and brutally beat him to death in front of witnesses. Autopsies showed that Said died from asphyxiation after swallowing a packet of drugs. Yet, skepticism of the autopsy results surfaced after gruesome images of Said’s badly beaten and bruised face circulated over the Internet.
Said was allegedly targeted by the officers after he posted a video of them splitting the spoils of a drug bust.
If convicted, Salah and Suleiman could face between three and fifteen years in prison.
In addition to inciting protests and demonstrations throughout Egypt, the killing has highlighted the problem of Egyptian police brutality, which has been blamed on Egypt’s emergency law. The law, which has been in place for three decades, permits officers to arrest people without charge and detain them indefinitely. Though prosecution of public officers is rare, as Al Jazeera reports, activists say that this case could prove to be a turning point in this aspect of Egypt’s history.
A major concern as the case resumes is witness protection. Amnesty International reported that a friend of Said who was collecting information on the case was attacked and threatened by attackers armed with knives.
“The Egyptian authorities must ensure that the witnesses to the assault on Khaled Mohammed Said are provided with all possible protection both to ensure their own safety and as a means of encouraging other witnesses to come forward,” said Malcolm Smart, the director of Amnesty’s International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
Said’s lawyers and family have said that they are seeking to upgrade the charges against Salah and Suleiman to murder.
“If we succeed in that, I think this will be the turning point. If not, I think [torture and brutality] will be the normal and systematic practice and they will consider all the pressure of the public nothing,” said Hafez Abu Saeda, director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and one of the family’s attorneys. “This will be a message to the police officers: You are protected from any punishment, you are free to do what you want to do.”
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Egypt police trial adjourned – 27 July 2010
BBC – Egypt police in brutality trial over Khaled Said death – 27 July 2010
Christian Science Monitor – Khalid Said case: Is Egypt cracking down on police brutality? – 27 July 2010
CNN – Egyptian police brutality case postponed two months – 27 July 2010
Guardian – Egyptian policemen go on trial over death of activist Khaled Said – 27 July 2010
Los Angeles Times – EGYPT: Police accused of beating Khaled Saied to death appear in court – 27 July 2010