The Egyptian Army crushing protesters: FIDH is calling for an independent commission of inquiry!

Press release
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On Sunday, October 9, 2011, as thousands of peaceful demonstrators were marching in downtown Cairo to protest the attack of Coptic Christian church in Merinab village in Aswan on September 30, and calling for an end to the systematic discrimination against Copts by the Egyptian authorities, violent clashes erupted between the protesters and the Egyptian military forces, resulting in 24 deaths and 317 people injured, according to the Ministry of Health.

When the protesters, marching from Shubra neighbourhood, reached Maspero, the state television building, they were attacked by civilians throwing stones at them according to one eyewitness.

Once the protesters reached the Nile corniche towards Maspero, military armoured personnel carriers started to dispatch the crowd with unprecedented brutality.

Videos posted on Twitter and on the Internet, clearly show army tanks repeatedly running through unarmed protesters. Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, counted at least 17 dead bodies in the morgue of the nearby Coptic Hospital. “I saw corpses crushed by military tanks, I saw bodies missing hands and legs, heads twisted away or plastered to the ground” Bahgat said.

Violence continued into the night with clashes between the army and the security forces, mainly the military police and the Presidential Guard (in charge of protecting Maspero building) on the one side, and youth on the other side, hurling rocks at the tanks. FIDH strongly condemns the excessive use of force by the army against mostly peaceful protesters.

FIDH calls upon the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to open prompt investigations into these killings in order to hold those responsible for such grave human rights violations accountable.

“As these violations seem to have been committed by military forces, and considering that the SCAF have been shielding from accountability since they took over, we are also calling for the establishment of an independent civilian commission of inquiry to look into the same events, so those responsible are identified and prosecuted. Victims’ rights to justice and reparation must be upheld” , says Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

FIDH also calls on the protesters to maintain their peaceful nature despite any provocation from the authorities.

A most worrisome attitude was that of the Egyptian State Television which aired a message calling on “honorable citizens” to take to the streets to protect the Egyptian army from “the Coptic protesters”, thus using sectarian language to incite hatred and civil strife. That call was unfortunately answered by islamists who later joined the army in the attack of protesters, both Christians and Muslims.

FIDH views these statements as clear incitement for sectarian clashes and demands that those responsible for propagating false information that incites violence be held accountable and prosecuted.

In addition, the SCAF continues to crack down on freedom of the press and freedom of expression as the army stormed the office of Al Hurra TV and TV 25 forcing them to end their live transmission covering the events in Maspero, and cut power and telecommunication of Al Shorouk newspaper after it published a video showing the bodies of dead protesters. This clearly shows the intention of the Egyptian army to cover up the crimes that were being perpetrated.

“What happened in Cairo yesterday is a very dangerous development and questions the SCAF ability to conduct a peaceful transition. At a time where the protection of basic fundamental rights, such as freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of association should not be compromised, we are worried that red lines have been crossed which would constitute a major stepback for the demands of the Egyptian revolution” , concludes Belhassen.

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