In its report on the August 2013 dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya Muslim Brotherhood sit-in in Cairo, Human Right Watch (HRW) described the violence as a “crime against humanity.”
The New York-based organization blamed Egyptian security forces for using indiscriminate lethal force against protesters and killing over 1,000. Similar accounts were given by local independent and international media and other human rights organizations, including the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights, which in a report released in March 2014 leveled considerable accusations at the police, despite heavily criticizing the HRW report for its “lack of objectivity.”
The June 30 fact-finding committee report released in November 2013 and commissioned by former President Adly Mansour, who took over shortly after the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood, also meted out blame against the police for “failing to only target the roving armed men among the protesters, which increased the number of the victims.”
Standing trial today for responsibility for the violence at Rabea, however, are hundreds of defendants who mostly belong to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The trial is one of the major court cases against Brotherhood leaders.
The case referral order includes the names of 739 defendants allegedly involved in the violence. The defendants face charges of forming an armed gathering of more than five people that endangered public safety and security. The charges also include premeditated murder of security personnel, vandalizing private and public property, forcibly occupying buildings, obstructing traffic, terrorizing the public, and restricting citizens’ right to freedom of movement and personal safety.
In a statement from the public prosecution office released in August 2015, the prosecution officially labeled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and held them accountable for the violence that occurred on that day, as well as throughout the duration of the sit-in, which started on June 21, 2013 and was dispersed on August 14.
According to lawyer Khaled al-Masry, who represents a number of the defendants, the defendants include 739 people out of 1,000 who were arrested and interrogated by police in the aftermath of the dispersal. Four hundred are in detention, while the remainder has been released pending investigations.
Masry, along with other lawyers working on the case, suspects that many of the defendants were not directly involved in the violence but were detained for their political affiliation.
Leading defendants include the Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, the group’s leaders Essam al-Erian, Abdel Rahman al-Bar, Mohamed al-Beltagy, Safwat Hegazy, Osama Yassin, Bassem Ouda, as well as Jama’a al-Islamiya leader Tarek al-Zomor.
Leading Brotherhood figures make up a small proportion of the defendants, however.
One defendant, Hosny Ali, 34, is a teacher from the Upper Egypt governorate of Sohag. His brother Gamal Ali tells Mada Masr that Hosny was arrested from the sit-in and has been held behind bars since.
“He was severely beaten first at Nasr City Police Station,” Ali says, adding that he then was transferred to Abu Zaabal Prison, and then to Tora Prison. Two months ago, his brother was diagnosed with a tumor in his neck.
“The prison administration sent him to Nasser Institute for medical checkups, but he has not started receiving any treatment,” Ali says. His lawyers demanded his release in light of his medical condition, but the criminal court ordered on August 9 to refer him to forensics. The next session is scheduled for September 6.
Photojournalist Mahmoud Abou Zeid, known as Shawkan, has become one of the most well known defendants in the case as a result of a campaign calling for a his release. Shawkan was arrested while covering the dispersal of the sit-in and has been held in detention since.
According to the case file, Shawkan was interrogated only once, two days after his arrest on August 16 at New Cairo Police Station. During the interrogation, Shawkan denied belonging to the Brotherhood. He said that he was doing his work as a photojournalist when he was arrested with others, and that he has no connection to the organization. He was not presented with any evidence associated with the charges against him.
Shawkan has been kept in pretrial detention since August 2013. His family and lawyers say he has been held without charges since then and only presented with official charges when the case was referred to court in December 2015.
The photojournalist faces charges of belonging to a terrorist organization, attacking civilian residents living in Rabea al-Adaweya, confronting security officials who dispersed the protest and using force against them, vandalizing public property, endangering public peace and security, among other charges.
In its statement, the prosecution explains that it depended on testimonies of local residents living in the area surrounding the sit-in, as well as “state institution officials” and police officers. Investigations showed, according to the prosecution’s statement, that the sit-in organizers convened armed marches to terrorize citizens, unlawfully detained and tortured citizens at the site of the sit-in and illegally possessed arms.
“The case follows the same pattern of the other cases against Muslim Brotherhood leaders, such as the Wadi al-Natroun prison break,” Masry says. “The case depends on an investigations carried out by the same police that is accused of killing the protesters.”
Masry expects that many of the residents’ testimonies won’t be used in court. Given his experience in similar cases, he predicts that “only police personnel are expected to testify before the court.”
According to the 100,000 page case file obtained by Mada Masr, investigations conducted by National Security Agency were based on a testimony from a NSA officer that provided information about the nature of Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in based on his “secret sources.”
When asked by the prosecution about the names of these sources and their relation to the defendants, the officer replied, “They vary in nature and include civilian and military sources. I cannot reveal their identity to protect their personal safety and protect public security.”
The officer explained that the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood intentionally staged this sit-in to counter the June 30 mass protests against former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, and how they executed a “plan to use violence to cause security vacuum in the country, threaten national peace and inciting to attack opponents of the ousted president to foil the [June 30] protests.”
The officer’s testimony also focused on the sit-in’s stage, which he says was a podium for inflammatory statements against opponents. The officer explained that some of the speeches given on the stage were to encourage the protesters, while others entailed direct incitement that “carried orders to spread violence.”
Four of the testimonies included in the case file are from civilians. One of these is from a resident of the Giza district of Imbaba who said that he headed to the Rabea sit-in to join the protesters, but as he attempted to leave he was beaten and tortured and sustained severe injuries to his back and thighs.
Most of the testimonies, however, are from police personnel injured during the dispersal and whose accounts make up over 500 pages. All blame the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, namely Badie, Beltagy, Erian and Hegazy, for the deaths of eight police personnel in the dispersal. The case file does not include any testimonies from defense witnesses.
The case’s latest court session was on August 9. It was the second session in which the prosecution presented its evidence.
The prosecution showed a map of the confrontations between the police and members of the Brotherhood. The evidence also included video footage showing Brotherhood leaders making charged remarks and inciting violence against political dissidents, police and Armed Forces and Copts. There were also photos showing the sit-in and its surrounding environment.
The prosecution’s representative said during the court session that armed men in the encampment fled during the dispersal through a safe passage that police forces prepared for protesters to peacefully leave the sit-in. The prosecution added that other armed members of the organization were arrested from the site of the sit-in.
The case file also includes records of the numbers of the victims of the violent dispersal. The records list 377 people who died, including eight police officers. These figures put the number of those killed in the violence following the dispersal at 686, including 64 police personnel.
Despite the fact that almost nine months have passed since the trial’s first session was held in December 2015, Masry says that it is too early to expect a final verdict. “With the current pace, such a case could extend to two years of litigation.”
He and others are not expecting positive outcome for the defendants, given how politically charged the case is, but also leaving justice for lives lost during the sit-in violence a fading hope.