13 November 2011
In a press conference held in Cairo earlier this month, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) released its fact finding report on the attack against Coptic demonstrators in Maspero, Cairo, last month, which left 28 dead and more than 300 injured.
According to eyewitnesses, the afternoon of Sunday 9 October saw some 50,000 unarmed Coptic civilians—including women and children—participate in a protest march that began in the Cairo district of Shubra and ended in Maspero. The protestors were demonstrating against the demolition and burning of a church in Merinab, Aswan, at the hands of extremist Muslims, and the official non-action and cover-up of the incident. The Copts were viciously attacked by the army and the security forces, as well as by unidentified civilians. As victims continued to fall, State TV sent out a call to Egyptians to rush to the rescue of the military which, it alleged, was under attack from the Copts.
Some 28 young men were arrested and prosecuted, charged with damaging military equipment. Since the charge is against the military, the detainees must be tried before a military court. The army has formed a fact-finding commission to investigate the event in preparation for the trial.
Saving the military embarrassment
The NCHR said an impartial investigation into the Maspero incident would save the military the embarrassment of having to investigate a case in which the Armed Forces were implicated.
According to the NCHR fact finding committee report, 12 were crushed to death by armoured vehicles, seven died of bullet shots in the head and the chest, two died for different reasons, and the committee could not identify the reason behind the death of seven other victims. The report said it is not known who fired the bullets, and called for further investigation to identify them. It claimed the military were not carrying live bullets that afternoon, merely fake ones.
The NCHR stressed the importance of identifying the non-military individuals or party who attacked the protestors, turning the peaceful demonstration into a scene of violence. It also demanded that those in charge of the Egyptian State TV should be held accountable for the flagrant instigation it sent out.
Health Ministry shortcoming
Mona Thulfaqqar, a lawyer and the head of the NCHR fact-finding committee, pointed out that the Health Ministry failed to provide accurate, substantial information regarding the reasons behind the death of the Maspero victims. The ministry issued a non-detailed report stating the names of the victims which, even so, proved inaccurate. It placed the number of deaths at 25, but the NCHR investigation proved there were 28 dead, among whom two died after the Health Ministry had issued its report.
NCHR member George Ishaq said that the fact finding committee formed by the Cabinet in the wake of the Maspero incident has so far declared no findings regarding the incident. He explained that the NCHR report would be a substantial document that would help investigations, given the accurate documents and facts that it includes.
Fouad Abdel-Moneim, professor of international law and member of the NCHR, said that the situation in Egypt must change, or else Egypt is in for a bleak future. He stressed that the killing of the demonstrators in Maspero is the outcome of a climate that fosters concealment, a flawed education system that breeds discrimination, and engrained values of discrimination and intolerance. He stressed that we are now before two choices, either to implement the laws to confront sectarian violence in order to shield Egypt from slipping into the abyss, or leave matters to spiral into a crisis.
Rights activist and NCHR member Hafez Abu-Saeda demanded that the military leadership of the Maspero operation should be questioned, as well as those who ran the demonstrators over. Saeda also called on the Military Council to announce the exact numbers of the military who lost their lives at Maspero—the military had expressly said it would not do so; that they never announce details on members of the military who lose their lives in operation.
The NCHR report strongly recommended the passage of a unified law for building places of worship, as well as the anti-discrimination law; prompt investigations in sectarian incidents; and investigation in the incitement caused by the State TV. The report referred to international treaties signed by Egypt, which condemn the violation of the right to live and the right to demonstrate.