Social media highlights social injustice
- Published: 11 September 2010
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12 September 2010
Silent stand day was held on 20 August. This was protest in silence to highlight to the world the struggle to end emergency law and stop torture in Egypt. How do I know about this? It was all over the internet.
The power of Facebook and Twitter is almost frightening.The touch of a button and within minutes we can see what is happening worldwide almost before it hits the news stations.
Facebook is fast becoming the political platform for students and young people living with social injustice every day. It takes just minutes to upload a photo or video from a mobile phone.
The new icons
There cannot be many people who do not now know of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young Iranian woman who became a symbol for the Iranian opposition. Neda was killed during the demonstrations in Tehran during the 2009 Iranian election protests.
Her death spread on the internet like a bush fire, immediatly alerting us to the severity of the situation in Tehran. Within days, Nada’s face and her horrifying death were broadcast on Youtube.
All around the world people were faced with social injustice within minutes of it taking place.Each web link leading to an even more informative one. All this from a simple mobile phone upload. It was enough for the Tehren goverment to block the use of facebook for a limited time.
Neda’s demise described as "probably the most widely witnessed death in human history" is disturbing to watch. Ned? (???) in Persian is said to mean voice and she has been referred to as the "voice of Iran.”
Her death is already becoming Iconic in the struggle of the oppressed. This visual proof of brutality as people fight for their human rights gives us greater understanding of situations of which we may have been blissfully ignorant.
Now, again we are hearing a new voice, that of Khaled Said, who is destined to become another iconic symbol for justice after being brutally beaten and tortured by the Egyptian police.
Although not the first Egyptian to be tortured to death by the police his death has ignited a large facebook appeal named ‘we are all Khaled said,’ which has over 5,000 members.
Young Egyptians want to see an end to the violence committed by Egyptian police on a daily basis after President Hosni Mubarak, maintained a state of emergency in Egypt since assuming office in 1981.
Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian businessman, was brutally beaten and killed, activists claim, by two plainclothes police officers on 6 June .
Although the details around Khaled Mohammed Said’s murder on 6 June are foggy, first reports stated that police came into an Internet café where he was using a computer and asked everyone for their IDs.
According to initial reports in local newspapers, Said refused to show his documents, which seemed to offend the police sufficiently to begin attacking him. Said was then taken to a police station where he was further beaten and then dumped, either unconscious or dead, on the street before he was picked up by an ambulance.
When his body was recovered, his face was barely recognizable.
Later reports emerged of several eyewitnesses describing how the two policemen took Khaled into the entrance of a residential building where he was brutally punched and kicked.
The two policemen banged his head against the wall, the staircase and the entrance steps. Despite his calls for mercy and asking them why they are doing this to him, they continued their torture until he died.
However, an Interior Ministry autopsy claimed that Said suffocated after swallowing a bag of drugs he tried to hide from police.
According to the BBC news, two state autopsies have concluded that he died of suffocation from swallowing a packet of illegal drugs. His family told the local media Mr Said had earlier posted an Internet video that purportedly showed two policemen sharing the spoils of a drug bust.
Soon after his death, photographs of his battered body, which his family confirmed were Khaled, began circulating online. Teeth missing jaw broken and blood pouring from his head: It was difficult to equate this photo with the police story of his suffocation.
Protesting in silence
The police authorities refused to investigate Khaled’s death claiming he died because he swallowed a pack of Marijuana. When many Egyptians started to ask questions, the police issued a few statements saying that Khaled was a drug user. Everyone who knew Khaled rejected these claims completely.
Another official statement said that Khaled was an army deserter, which his family have claimed to be false. After much pressure the Egyptian authorities finally decided to question and arrest the two Policemen and they were charged with two counts: “Using excessive force and unjustified arrest of Khaled Said.”
No one was charged with murder. The trial was adjourned to 25 September. The officers will remain in custody until then. Meanwhile lawyers for his family are asking for the charges to be changed to murder.
Social media is the new platform for activists to highlight social injustice. Facebook and Twitter have yet been seen to have the power to overthrow a government but it certainly thrusts previously unknown issues into our homes.
Protests against Egyptian police brutality and Emergency law are carried out peacefully as silent protests.
According to Reuters up to 8000 Egyptians protested in Alexandria, home of Khaled Said, on Friday 25 June. Another protest organised by the facebook group was set for Friday 20 August. Supporters worldwide were asked to “please spend sometime standing in silence in their hometown dressed in black as a sign of support.”
What is emergency law and why is it enforced?
A state of emergency is a governmental declaration that may suspend certain normal functions of government and alert citizens to change their normal pattern of behaviour. It can also be used as a valid reason for suspending civil liberties.
It is normally brought into force during times of natural disaster or during periods of civil unrest. In Egypt, The state of emergency was renewed on May 11, 2010, for two more years.
The emergency law comes into force when a state of emergency is declared or extended. In this case it has become extended.
According to a report by the BBC, the law, which was extended in May, first came into force almost 30 year ago following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat by an Islamist militant.
However it said that new legal limits would be introduced, guaranteeing that it would be used only to counter terrorism. . In recent weeks however, campaigners defying the official ban on public gatherings to hold rallies in downtown Cairo have found themselves surrounded by hundreds of riot police.
"The police are circling the whole area, forbidding us from marching to parliament with our just demands," said one activist at a recent protest calling for constitutional reforms and the lifting of emergency law, reports the BBC.
Many people have been beaten and dozens detained in demonstrations since April. The law gives wide powers to the security forces allowing arbitrary arrests and prolonged detentions without trial. Cases can be prosecuted before state security courts without the usual right to appeal.
The El Nadim Center
The El Nadim Center is for the Management and Rehabilitation of victims of violence and is an independent Egyptian NGO that was established in August 1993 as a civil not for profit company.
The following was kindly provided by Aida Seif El Dawla, Programme Coordinator (The United Nations Human Rights Council has recently selected prominent activist El-Dawla among four nominees for the position of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture).
What follows are true stories of torture.
“When we first began work at El Nadim one of our projects was to draw a map of police stations where torture takes place. Not before long we realized that the map of torture coincides with the map of the country,” she says.
“Wherever there is an uncensored police power there is torture. Wherever there are poor citizens who lack strong connections with important people who might save them from police brutality, there is torture. Wherever there is political opposition, there is torture.
“Torture in Egypt is practiced in all police stations, in security officers, in metro stations and on university campus. Police officers sometimes even rent furnished apartments to torture their victims ‘at ease’.
“Also the practice of torture is not confined to a specific time frame. It has been happening over long periods of time to the point that Egyptian and international human rights organizations have come to describe it as a systematic state policy.
“From all of the above we confirm that torture is a deliberate state policy that extends over time and place. The responsibility for the situation does not lie alone with the official employees, the officers, who actually commit the crime. It is also the responsibly of public authorities who draw the policies of the country and supervise their implementation,” says El Dawla.
The following are some cases that the El Nadim Center has come across, and still the torture continues.
Asmaa Mohamed Ahmed Horeiz
Profession: Trainee journalist at El Karama newspaper
Crime: Covering parliamentary elections in Egypt
Asmaa was asked by her newspaper to cover the elections in El Qalubeyya governorate. She finished at around 11 p.m. at the Shubra 2nd poll station. Suddenly she was attacked by a number of men who twisted her arms behind her back, covered her mouth and pushed her into a black car. In the car she was blindfolded.
She tried to resist, but one of the men was pressing hard on her mouth to prevent her from screaming. She found it hard to breathe. They used a rope to tie her hands behind her back.
After a while they removed the blindfold. She found herself in an office with a picture of the President of the Republic. No names on the desk. In front of her was a man whom they referred to as “Pasha” so she realized he was an officer.
He said: Is that her? One of his men replied: Yes it is Pasha. Then the interrogations started amidst slapping and beating. There were three other men standing behind her while the Pasha was interrogating her. They were holding her so that the pasha could beat her “properly”. He asked her are with the brotherhood? Again she said: I am a journalist under training. He ordered the men to untie her.
They untied me and then he asked me to sign a paper, which I had not read. I refused. I asked him, why you are arresting me. The newspaper must be looking for me and this will have serious consequences. He asked me: what do you think you can do? I told him there is a law in this country. He said, we are above the law
Every time she replied to him a man standing behind her would pull her hair and hit her head against the desk and with every bang against the desk the pasha’s voice would rise: will you or will you not confess?
He beat me across the jaw with the side of his hand and my mouth started to bleed. He started to use dirty language about my mother. I returned his insult. He lost control and started to slap me on the face and bang my head against the desk, while the others were holding me for him.
I grabbed the paper from his hand trying to see what it says. He grabbed it back and punched me in my chest so that I fell on the ground. He tried to make me sign by force, putting a pen in my hand and I refused and pushed him away with my elbow.
He pulled me from my shirt and hit me against the wall and told me I shall teach you to be decent. Then again, a man brought that piece of paper and told me to sign. I refused. He kicked me in my loins and head and stepped with his shoes on my toes and fingers. He pulled me from my hair and hit me against the wall, all this so that I sign.
He wanted me to confess to some organization or to confess that I am with the brotherhood. I was lying on the floor. One of my teeth was broken. My mouth and eyes were bleeding.
He said: I am telling you, if you tell anything about what happened here, you will regret it, you and your family. I know everything about you. I have a file for you. I won’t let you work in journalism again. Throughout those threats he was pulling at my hair, hitting my head against the wall.
Then he told his men: Blindfold her and throw her somewhere away from here. Let nobody see you and come back fast.
Asmaa managed to get to the El Karama office and was taken to the Red Crescent Hospital. She was not examined. Only x-rays were taken for her. No interrogation, no documentation, no clinical examination, and no report, except a small piece of paper that says: possible brain concussion.
Two days later the hospital told her to leave since there was no need for her to stay! She went home.
Preliminary medical observations:
- Inability to walk because of pain in the toes
- Injuries in her forehead and below the left eye
- Dryness and swelling of right eye
- Pain in the right shoulder and elbow due to muscular tear in her right upper arm
- Difficulty in movement in fingers of both hands
- Bruises on her back
- Pain in her left arm radiating to the chest
- Spasm in the muscles of the right leg extending from the hip down to the knee
- Nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia
Abou El Nomros police station
An elderly woman was killed in Tersa village in Abou El Nomros, Giza governorate. Instead of carrying out proper investigations to find the murderer a series of major human rights violations began instead with random arrest of large numbers of men, woman and children in the village.
The arrests were violent associated with beatings and illegal entry into houses and destruction of private property.
El Nadim doctors have examined three of the victims: Abdel Rahman Ali Abdel Rahman (62 years), Mohamed Abdel Rahman Ali (16 years) and Sharbat Abdel Rahman Ali (18 years).
The examination revealed a number of bruises and injuries (documented by photography) in addition to psychological stress disorders.
The father Abdel Rahman Ali Abdel Rahman, retired, says:
The day they found about the murder, Saturday the 3rd, a number of police trucks came into the village and searched many houses. They were looking for evidence.
They beat people on the streets and in their homes and detained several from the alley. They arrested the neighbors of the killed woman. They used everything to beat us: whips, their boots, their hands. They pulled the women by their hair.
They took my wife. They came into my house in my absence and searched the house upside down and arrested my wife together with others. My wife remained in detention then they took my daughter (17 years old).
When I returned home I found out that they had taken her. A week later she returned home. She was bruised and beaten and it showed on her back. My wife would go to the police station every day at 7 in the morning where they would question her until after midnight. She told me she was beaten and abused.
At the same time they arrested my son Abdel Rahman and beat him so severely. He was blindfolded with a scarf and his hands were chained behind his back. About 6 people beat him up. My daughter and I saw it with our own eyes. They tied him to the ceiling.
I saw him once and his sister saw him about four times. They threatened her in front of him. They were using her to pressure him. My other son was in the next room. That is the same room I was in. They were beating him too.
How to help
It is important for us all to remember that our help comes from highlighting these situations and therefore putting pressure on the countries government to do something.
The most powerful tool is easily within our reach. Within the space of 30 minutes I was led from the ‘We are all Khaled Said’ facebook page to numerous links highlighting issues of social injustice all over the world that I was totally unaware of.
There is nothing more powerful than global condemnation. Hit your laptops today and show your support.
Lynda Renham-Cook is associate editor at The Scavenger.