Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the death of Khaled Mohammed Said, a 28-year-old human rights activist who is widely alleged to have been beaten to death by police in Alexandria on 6 June, and calls for an independent and transparent enquiry.
The prosecutor-general’s decision on 16 June to order a new autopsy is a positive move but is not enough. There are two very different versions of Said’s death and only an independent investigation will serve to shed light on this tragedy.
“Said probably lost his life for denouncing police corruption,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Courageous bloggers and netizens often expose police abuses online although they are risking reprisals. The authorities do not however take sufficiently firm measures to put a stop to the violence.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The impunity must stop. The authorities cannot keep using the state of emergency law to block the demands for justice. The international community must put pressure on the government in order to ensure that Said’s presumed murderers are tried and punished without delay.”
An Internet café owner said Said was beaten to death in the street after being arrested inside the café by two plain-clothes policemen. According to his family and local human rights organisations, he was killed after posting a video online that showed police sharing the profits after a drug deal.
When Said’s family filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office on 7 June, they found that the police had already filed a report claiming he had died from a drug overdose. According to the police, he swallowed a small bag containing drugs as the police went to arrest him. The police officers allegedly involved in his death are still working.
The Security Information Centre issued a statement denying that the police were in any way responsible for Said’s death and accusing Said of being involved in illegal activities and not doing his military service.
Said has become a symbol. Hundreds of people have demonstrated to demand an end to impunity for police brutality. The protests are being expressed above all online because of the difficulty of demonstrating in the streets. Photos of what is said to be Said’s body, showing appalling injuries, have circulated widely on social networks.
The state of emergency law was extended for another two years last month, despite strong international condemnation. It gives the police wide-ranging powers including the ability to restrict public gatherings and hold detainees indefinitely without having to charge them.
Three human rights activists – Gamal Eid of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Ahmed Seif El Islam Hamad of the Hisham Mubarak Centre and Amr Gharbeia, a blogger – are meanwhile to be tried on defamation charges on 26 June. Reporters Without Borders regards the prosecution as judicial harassment and calls for the withdrawal of the charges.