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HRW Documents ‘Excessive Military Force’ Against Egypt Protesters

Egyptian army soldiers arrest a woman protester during clashes with military police near Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square,  Egypt Friday, Dec. 16, 2011.
Egyptian army soldiers arrest a woman protester during clashes with military police near Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square, Egypt Friday, Dec. 16, 2011.

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  • Clottey interview with Heba Morayef, Egypt researcher for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Peter Clottey

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) is expressing concern about the military’s use of “excessive force” following clashes with protesters in Egypt’s capital, Cairo.

The Health Ministry announced the latest death Monday, bringing the four-day toll to 11 people. Officials say more than 500 others have been hurt, while the military says at least 164 people have been detained.

Human Rights Watch’s Egypt researcher Heba Morayef says the military’s description of protesters as hooligans creates an environment where security officers violently crush protests.

“What we are seeing is a continuation of a pattern of excessive use of force in policing,” said Morayef. “The military has always responded with excessive force. They have not at any point applied proportion in terms of dealing with any violence that may occur during the protests themselves. Their use of force has resulted in the death of a number of protesters.”

Military rulers, meanwhile, say the use of force against protesters was justified.  A spokesman for the military council, General Adel Emara, told reporters Monday protesters were trying to “topple the state.”  He said the demonstrators were provoking soldiers and destroying government property.

But Morayef said the military is abdicating its responsibility to protect unarmed protesters. She said HRW takes human rights violations seriously.

“Moving forward, the behavior of law enforcement officers, whether or not Egypt manages to reform law enforcement officers or police officers, will be key to whether or not there can be a successful transition,” said Morayef. “This is a priority to document how military officers deal with protests that may at some point grow violent. The use of force is never an appropriate political response.”

The military council is overseeing a three-month phased parliamentary election, and has promised to hand power to an elected president by July.

Morayef said the military has often dismissed protesters as lawbreakers.

“The military has responded to every protest as politically illegitimate by trying to discredit the protesters,” said Morayef. “[They] describe protesters as criminals as thugs as hooligans to then justify its use of excessive force saying all means must be used to stop these individuals. [They also say] that the military police is only acting in self-defense to protect government buildings.”

She also says support for current protesters at the Tahrir Square has not been overwhelming.

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