A state-appointed committee has concluded that Egyptian police used excessive force against pro-democracy protesters in a damning report on their conduct during the unrest that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
The report was the first official account of the mass demonstrations that began on January 25 and eventually ended the autocratic 30-year rule of Mubarak on February 11. The report said 846 protesters were killed and more than 6,000 wounded. Authorities had initially put the death toll at almost 380. Twenty-six policemen were also killed.
Many of the events described by the Fact Finding Mission, which took more than two months to compile the report, unfolded on live television and come as no surprise to Egyptians who witnessed the uprising. But human rights activists said the report was a significant step towards holding the former administration accountable, one of the central demands of the protesters.
“The right of peaceful assembly is a recognized and basic human freedom,” the government appointed committee said in its report, which will be used as evidence in court trials and investigations by the Public Prosecutor.
“It is needless to say that the incidents of shootings and the consequential deaths throughout the events of the January 25 Revolution breached legally mandated regulations,” it said.
The report said police had used live ammunition, in addition to rubber bullets and water cannon against the protesters, and drove armoured vehicles into the crowd, killing many. It cited one officer who testified he was given orders to fire at protesters. The committee said it had evidence that buildings adjacent to Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the 18-day uprising, were used by snipers, adding that many of those killed were shot in the chest and the head.
“The committee sees that there was an order from the ministry of interior authorising the use of live ammunition to disperse protesters,” the report said, adding that those in power had sanctioned the use of live bullets. Egypt’s former interior minister Habib al-Adli and four other senior officers are already facing trial on charges of killing protesters during the uprising. Mubarak is also being investigated on the same charges, which he denies.
The report said police officers were ordered to withdraw from the streets, while looting was under way, to create chaos and instill fear in the nation to thwart the protests. During the uprising, media reported prison breakouts and the report said that some evidence suggested that this happened with the knowledge of the police.
It said in some cases, security forces fired tear gas and bullets at prisoners to force them to escape. Other reports indicate the police let them out of their cells. The security forces were also implicated in sending out plainclothes personnel, armed with batons, knives, guns and petrol bombs, to assault the protesters. Some of these men charged at the protesters, on the back of horses and camels, during one of the most dramatic days of the uprising.
Hafez Abou Saeda of the Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights said the report would help the state prosecutor bring many former officials to justice.
“This report is very well done. It will be one of the foundations for judicial trials and will be cornerstone to holding those responsible accountable,” he said.