Egyptian protester stripped and beaten

Last updated 07:41 04/02/2013
Reuters

An Egyptian television channel broadcasts a graphic video of Egyptian riot police beating a naked protester in Cairo.

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A man who was beaten and dragged across the ground naked by Egyptian riot police during a demonstration has appeared on state television blaming the incident on demonstrators.

A video of Hamada Saber, 48, being beaten with truncheons by helmeted police has infuriated the opposition, which accuses President Mohamed Mursi of ordering a harsh crackdown on protests two years after the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Mursi's government has announced an investigation into the incident, which came at the end of eight days of violent protests that saw nearly 60 people killed, the deadliest unrest of his seven months in office.

State television aired overnight a recording of Saber, lying on bed in a police hospital, giving his account of the incident, in which he blamed protesters for stripping and robbing him.

It was not clear how his account could be reconciled with the widely seen footage, which clearly showed police beating him with truncheons and dragging him naked across a road.

Saber said he had seen a crowd running and then felt himself shot in the leg.

"I fell over, I failed to stand up again, then they surrounded me in a circle and attacked me," he said. The interviewer asked if he was referring to the demonstrators, and he answered: "Yes I am. They took my clothes off, maybe they were looking for money in my pockets. Then someone among them shouted: 'He is not a soldier. He is not a soldier, he is an old man and you are going to kill him.'

"The soldiers ran towards me. I was afraid of them, but they were saying, 'We will not beat you'. I swear to God this is what happened. I kept on running. They said again: 'Do not be afraid.' I kept running away and they said, 'We are exhausted because of you'."

Egypt's prosecutors' office has released a statement saying Saber denied that police had hit him. That statement was received angrily by the opposition which suspects the authorities of intimidating him to exonerate the police.

"That a citizen be dragged in a public space is a crime against humanity. That he be forced to amend his testimony before the Public Prosecution is tyranny. It has dire consequences for justice," Nasser Amin, a prominent lawyer and campaigner for judicial independence said on Twitter.

Also on Twitter, Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6 youth movement that helped launch the anti-Mubarak protests, tweeted: "Mursi has been stripped bare and has lost his legitimacy. Done."

Another protester was shot dead on Friday and more than 100 were injured, many seriously, in battles between police and demonstrators who attacked the palace with petrol bombs.

That unrest followed eight days of violence that saw dozens of protesters shot dead in the Suez Canal city of Port Said and Mursi respond by declaring a curfew and state of emergency there and in two other cities.

But none of the bloodshed - which the authorities have blamed on the need for police to control violent crowds - has quite resonated like the images of officers abusing a man at their feet - clearly helpless, prone and no possible threat.

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"Stripping naked and dragging an Egyptian is a crime that shows the excessive violence of the security forces and the continuation of its repressive practices - a crime for which the president and his interior minister are responsible," liberal politician Amr Hamzawy said on Twitter.

The incident was an unmistakable reminder of the beating of a woman by riot police on Tahrir Square in December 2011. Images of her being dragged and stomped on - her black abaya cloak torn open to reveal her naked torso and blue bra - became a rallying symbol for the revolution and undermined the interim military rulers who held power between Mubarak's fall and Mursi's rise.

The anger was compounded with disbelief when the prosecutor's office released a statement saying Saber had exonerated the police and denied they had assaulted him. His clothes had inadvertently come off while police were shielding him from protesters, it quoted him as saying.

"This shows that state institutions are collapsing, as is the rule of law. We are living in chaos," said lawyer Achraf Shazly, 35. "Next thing you know, the martyr killed yesterday will rise from the dead and say he wasn't shot."

In announcing an investigation into the beating of Saber, Mursi's office made clear he was still pointing the blame at the political opponents who have encouraged protests.

"What has transpired over the past day is not political expression, but rather acts of criminality. The presidency will not tolerate vandalism or attacks on individuals and property. The police have responded to these actions in a restrained manner," Mursi's office said.

"Doubtless, in the heat of the violence, there can be violations of civil liberties, and the presidency equally will not tolerate such abuses. In one incident, an individual was seen to be dragged and beaten by police. The Minister of Interior has, appropriately, announced an investigation."

- Reuters

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