18 rights groups warn: The Interior Ministry’s crimes are leading to the spread of counter-violence and terrorism in the country
The undersigned organizations hold the Ministry of Interior wholly responsible for the deaths of at least 20 people killed near the Air Defense Stadium the day before yesterday while attempting to enter a League match between Zamalek and ENPPI football teams.
The organizations declare that ongoing, near daily killings and injuries can be attributed to the policy of impunity of the last four years, successive, post-January 25 governments’ lack of political will to hold human rights violators to account, and the Public Prosecution’s complicit failure to prosecute security personnel involved in these incidents. The increasing number of victims of police crimes and the repeated incidents of violence and extrajudicial killing of the past 18 months suggest that political cover is being given to the police, allowing them to kill with impunity.
The organizations warn that the crimes and violations by the Interior Ministry are pushing the country to the brink of being a failed state, making political and economic stability an impossible endeavour.
Mass killings of citizens—secularists, Islamists, and even football fans—in the four years since the January 25 uprising has continued under various governments. These governments, though they may be divided on politics, have all helped to cover up crimes committed against regular Egyptians and failed to hold police and army perpetrators to account. In fact, they have prosecuted and punished victims who made it out of such incidents alive, sentencing them in some cases to life imprisonment. The ongoing collusion in these crimes gives a green light to the perpetrators to freely kill Egyptians, under the protection of state institutions and its media. This lawlessness also encourages citizens to take the law into their own hands, fostering acts of political vengeance. State institutions are thus encouraging the recruitment of more Egyptians to terrorist groups both in and out of the country.
According to eyewitnesses and based on photos and footage, a few thousand Zamalek fans attempted to enter the match on Sunday, gathering on an incline that leads to the stadium entrance, surrounded by police personnel and armored vehicles. This fed into a corridor, primitive and narrow, and composed of iron and razor wire, which in turn led into the stadium.
According to several witness statements, Central Security Forces officers and soldiers were on high alert. Officers more than once threatened that soldiers would respond with violence in the event of the slightest irregularity. According to eyewitnesses, several football fans attempted to calm the situation, explaining to soldiers and officers that the crowding was the cause of the pushing.
According to eyewitness accounts, at around 6 pm the crowds suddenly found themselves being attacked with tear gas. The tear gas was fired directly into the crowd after the metal corridor collapsed on them. This caused the crowd to push as each person attempted to escape asphyxiation. Police immediately responded to the situation by firing – even more heavily – tear gas directly into the crowd, which prompted more pushing and caused injuries. As the crowd grew more agitated and sought ways to escape, police forces on both sides continued to fire tear gas at them and soldiers beat any person who attempted to flee. Armored police vehicles gave chase to people who had managed to escape the scene, shooting at them with tear-gas and birdshots.
In a statement issued at nearly 7 pm, the Interior Ministry described developments as follows: “Security monitoring observed that large numbers of Zamalek fans were at the Air Defense Stadium to attend the match between Zamalek and ENPPI on Sunday evening, February 8, without tickets to enter the match. They attempted to storm the stadium gates by force, which prompted the forces to prevent their ongoing attack on the stadium facilities.”The official spokesman for the Interior Ministry commented on the incident and police conduct saying, “The organization of the Zamalek-ENPPI match on Sunday evening was good and went smoothly on the part of football league officials and the Zamalek Club, but we were surprised by some 10,000 fans trying to force their way into the stadium.” He added, “The forces were compelled to use gas to disperse those assembled, motivated by safety concerns. If not for that, there would have been many times the injuries.”
Eyewitnesses said that there were no more than 10,000 fans, as confirmed by the Interior Ministry’s official spokesman, among them entire families. This is a relatively small number, since police typically deal with more than 100,000 fans in major matches at the Cairo stadium. Those matches have seen numerous clashes between crowds and security, but none of them has resulted in so many casualties. It is therefore difficult to describe what happened at the match as “a loss of control” when seen against the history of the Egyptian football crowds.
Interior Ministry forces’ handling of the incident demonstrates its utter disregard for the right to life. Their failure to adhere to the minimum rules governing the use of force and their repeated failure to comply with the principles of necessity, proportionality, and precaution. The incremental escalation in the use of force indicates that the police authorities care little for the most important human right: the right to life. Indeed, the police’s handling of the incident on Sunday is indicative of the vindictive manner with which it deals with mass gatherings, of whatever nature. Police forces did not honor the most basic rules governing the use of tear gas to contain the “rioting,” which dictate that canisters not be fired into crowds or closed spaces and that exits be made available. Contrary to the security objective of tear gas—which is to disperse crowds—there was no exit for those targeted with the gas. Several suffocated to death while security forces corralled them and chased those who managed to escape with batons and more tear gas.
Dr. Hisham Abd al-Hamid, an aide to the top forensic physician, told al-Ahram, at 2:30 pm yesterday, “An autopsy of the bodies from the Zamalek-ENPPI match revealed that they had all been killed by asphyxiation, due to the crowding and the spread of tear gas in the air.” Later at 3:30 pm, the Forensic Medicine Authority announced that the preliminary forensic report was ready. The authority said that 19 people had died in the incident and the major causes of death were “contusions and abrasions in the chest and face as a result of the pressure on the chest cavity and lungs resulting from pushing, which impeded respiratory movement and led to death.” The authority denied its previous statement that the tear gas was one of the direct causes of death and also denied that some had been killed by gunfire.
The undersigned organizations attempted to contact the deputy director of the Forensic Medicine Authority for further details on the preliminary report and if the report contained the results of the chemical lab analysis, which would demonstrate whether CS gas was found in the blood of the dead, but he was unavailable for comment.
Whether the cause of death is asphyxiation due to excessive exposure to gas and poisoning due to the inhalation of gas or asphyxiation, fractures, and contusions dues to pushing, the criminal liability is the same. The main cause in both cases is the excessive, unnecessary use of gas in a way that seems designed to inflict injuries and harm on the crowd.
The undersigned organizations note that this crime is not an isolated incident, but represents a pattern of conduct when security personnel engage with crowds, whether political or sports assemblies. Security forces disregard all laws and standards related to assemblies and use unjustified violence; these incidents thus typically end with several dead and injured. This has been the pattern since 2011, whether it is a demonstration of no more than a few dozen carrying flowers and posters or ten thousand fans trying to enter a football match.
We reiterate that in the last four years police violence and crimes by the security apparatus, committed with full impunity, have reached levels unknown in Egypt’s modern history. If they continue undeterred and without genuine accountability, they threaten to push the victims and their families into carrying out their own private justice. The spread of violence between civilians and between them and state agencies is a genuine threat to civic peace.
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
- Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
- Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
- National group for human rights and law
- Human Right Association for the Assistance of the Prisoners
- Arab Network for Human Rights Information
- El-Nadeem Centre for the rehabilitation of victims of violence and torture
- Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
- Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance
- Hisham Mobarak Law Center
- Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development
- Masryoon Against Religious Discrimination
- Egyptian Commission for rights and freedoms
- Arab Penal Reform Organization
- Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
- Egyptian Coalition for the Rights of the Child
- New women foundation
- Group of Human Rights Legal Assistance