Egypt's bereaved demand justice on anniversary

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 25, 2012 2:29 PM
Egypt's bereaved demand justice on anniversary

By Tom Perry

CAIRO (Reuters) - Walaa al-Din Hosni was shot dead a year ago in Cairo while protesting against Hosni Mubarak's rule. Shehab Ahmed Sayyed was shot dead 10 months later in the Egyptian capital while protesting against the military rulers who replaced him.

On the first anniversary of the January 25 uprising, their families came to Cairo's Tahrir Square to demand justice for the hundreds of Egyptians who died in pro-democracy protests last year and whose killers are still at large.

To date, no senior official has been held to account over the deaths, a failure seen by the bereaved as proof of a cover up all too reminiscent of the Mubarak era and a sign of how much has yet to change a year after he was removed from power.

Mubarak has himself been charged with ordering the killing. But his trial is not inspiring confidence among those who want to see him punished, the prosecution seeming weaker than they had hoped. His defense denies any such orders were given.

In Tahrir Square, "retribution for the martyrs" was one of the main demands of activists who rallied Wednesday.

"We have come down today because the rights of the martyrs have yet to be realized," said Magdi Eid Refai, whose nephew Hosni was killed on January 28, among the bloodiest of the 18 days of the revolt and one that became known as "The Friday of Anger."

"He was hit by a live bullet in the head."

Standing next to Refai, his brother held a portrait of their late nephew. They were taking part in a protest demanding justice for the dead.

"Retribution Retribution! They killed our children with bullets," they chanted as they weaved their way through a crowd of tens of thousands congregated in the square.

Though Egyptians are united in supporting the demand for justice, the crowd in Tahrir was split over whether Wednesday should be a day for celebration or a moment to launch a new uprising against army rule.

Among the bereaved, there is little doubt that the security forces were behind the killing: some of the violence was captured on camera and broadcast on television.

"There can be no festivities until there is retribution," Refai said.

After Mubarak stepped down, a state-appointed committee reported that police had used excessive force, including live ammunition and rubber bullets. Armored vehicles were also used to charge the crowd.

Yet in some cases that have been brought against members of the security forces, the charges have not stuck. In others, trials are still ongoing.

UNCOVERING THE TRUTH

The prosecution has sought the death sentence for Mubarak and his former interior minister on charges of ordering the killing of protesters.

But it has also complained that a lack of cooperation from the security services has hindered evidence collection. In the course of the Mubarak trial, senior officials and the Interior Ministry have denied there were orders to shoot.

Uncovering the truth is one of the top priorities of the newly elected parliament which sat this week for the first time. The chamber decided Tuesday to launch its own inquiry.

An MP whose son was wounded in the uprising broke down in tears as he demanded justice. The military-led government has offered financial compensation to the families of the dead, who number around 800 over the course of the year.

"My demand is that they don't buy us off with money, my demand is retribution and to know who killed them, who murdered them, who took them from us," said Mona Mohammed, the mother of Shehab Ahmed Sayyed, who was killed in November.

"He was shot by a live bullet. It went into his chest and came out the other side," she said, holding a portrait of her son as she spoke. "He was a young man who wanted to live in his country with dignity."

He was killed during protests against the military council led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, for two decades Mubarak's defense minister. The council has promised to hand power to an elected president by the end of June but is seen by pro-democracy activists as the obstacle to real reform in Egypt.

Mohammed described the council as Mubarak's "hidden hand" and said she had launched her own case against the army rulers. "God willing they will be put on trial," she said. "I want retribution. I've said it everywhere I go."

"Our blood is not cheap."

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams)