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Journalists, peaceful protestors assaulted during demonstration against police brutality

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, June 28, 2010 - Egyptian authorities should stop beating and arbitrarily arresting peaceful demonstrators and investigate those responsible, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 10, 13, and 20, 2010, security officials beat and arbitrarily arrested demonstrators peacefully protesting an apparent beating death by police of a man in Alexandria on June 6.

"This cycle of security officials beating peaceful demonstrators, holding them for hours or days, and then finally releasing them without charge needs to stop," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Security officials need to learn how to do their jobs without gratuitous violence that amounts to extrajudicial punishment."

Since photos of the mangled body of Khaled Said spread online in the days after he died, at least ten witnesses have described seeing him being severely beaten following his arrest by plainclothes security agents. Activists in Cairo and Alexandria organized a number of demonstrations to express anger over his torture and murder. A Facebook page dedicated to the incident has a membership of 241,000.

The biggest demonstration took place on June 25 in Alexandria, with more than 1,000 protesters, including Mohamed El Baradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a potential presidential candidate.

On June 20, security officers arrested at least 55 protesters, and detained them for up to four hours before releasing them. The demonstration was to have taken place at 5 p.m. in downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square, but a massive security presence made any gathering impossible. Protesters then assembled at nearby Bab al-Louk Square, and a group of around 100 walked from there through downtown streets chanting against the Ministry of Interior saying it was responsible for Said's death and calling for accountability. Protesters were walking down Sharif Street when three Central Security trucks arrived, and riot police and central security officers started pushing the protesters back.

Human Rights Watch staff observed security officials beating, dispersing, and arresting protesters, journalists, and bystanders. Riot police and plain clothes security in many cases beat protesters, both male and female, to get them to move back. Even after the security officers had cordoned off all the protesters into a side street, security forces continued to hit them. Security officers arrested at least 55 protesters and took them away in vans. The officers targeted those leading the chants but also indiscriminately rounded up protesters. Among those arrested were Sayed Torky, a consultant working with Human Rights Watch, and Emad Mubarak, director of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, a human rights nongovernmental organization, who were both there to monitor the protest.

"I went into the side street with some of the protesters, saw a plainclothes officer hitting a female protester, so I tried to intervene to stop him and five of them dragged me and put me into the van," Torky said. "There were 29 of us in the van."

Security officials drove all 55 detained protesters around for hours and then started releasing them on highways outside of Cairo.

Security officials also attacked journalists and activists filming the demonstration and confiscated at least two cameras. Sarah Carr, an Egyptian-British journalist with Daily News Egypt, told Human Rights Watch that she was photographing the demonstration when a security official dragged her down by her camera strap, causing her to fall. Human Rights Watch staff saw a security officer beat and kick Philip Rizk, an activist, when they saw he was filming them arresting and beating other protesters.

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