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Egypt: Protests break out after police officer allegedly beat man to death

A police officer reportedly crushed the skull of poultry shop owner Mohamed Youssef, sparking angry protests in his Nile Delta village
Mohamed Youssef, 34, was the owner of a poultry shop in the village of Monshaat el-Karaam in the Qalyubia governorate. He was reportedly beaten to death on 17 March by a police officer (Twitter)

Egyptian social media users have lashed out at security services after a man was reportedly beaten to death by a police officer on Wednesday. 

According to eyewitnesses and family testimonies shared on social media, a police officer beat Mohamed Youssef inside a poultry shop the latter owned in the village of Monshaat el-Karaam in the Nile Delta province of Qalyubia.

The story was corroborated by the testimony of journalist Ahmed Abdeen, who says he comes from the same village and used to be the victim’s neighbour.

'The man is now dead, his corpse is still in the shop and people are afraid to remove it, while the police services refuse to respond'

- Ahmed Abdeen, journalist

“A police officer from the Shebeen Qanatir municipality accompanied by two junior officers stormed the shop of Mohamed Youssef, a young man from my village Monshaat el-Karaam, beat him with their rifles, killed him, then left,” he wrote on Facebook.

“The man is now dead, his corpse is still in the shop and people are afraid to remove it, while the police services refuse to respond.”

Protests erupted soon after the incident, with locals chanting “We want his rights.” 

Egypt’s interior ministry has yet to comment on the incident, but state news agency MENA cited a security source on Thursday as denying that Youssef was killed by an officer.

Egyptian media under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi are known to be tightly controlled by the intelligence services.

“I have contacted dozens of journalists in Egypt to publish a story on the crime of murder of the young man who was my classmate in school. They promised me to publish something, but then there seem to be orders to cover up the story,” Abdeen said.

Videos by locals, however, have been widely shared on social media, including one in which MP Mahmoud Badr is seen being forced out of the village by protesters over the authorities' silence. 

A social media campaign calling for an investigation into the incident has gone viral, with activists and journalists voicing their criticism of repeated patterns of police brutality that often go unchecked. 

“One day after Egypt’s foreign ministry issued a statement in response to international criticism of its human rights, a young man, Mohamed Youssef, a father of four children, was killed at the hands of investigation officer ... along with two of his assistants in the shop of the victim," journalist Lilian Dawoud wrote, naming the officer allegedly responsible in the case.

"They killed him by crushing his skull, according to what the family reported.”

Haytham Abu-Khalil, an opposition TV presenter and human rights defender, accused the public prosecutor's office of ignoring the incident. 

"Why are you ignoring it? We need a statement for God's sake," he wrote on Twitter. "This is a crime of murder sir. Why are you turning a blind eye to it?"

A climate of impunity

Egypt has witnessed similar killings in recent years, most recently the killing of Coptic Christian Adel Lotfi in the southern city of Minya on 24 February.

According to witnesses and family statements to Middle East Eye, Lotfi was stabbed to death by a junior police officer after an altercation. The incident sparked protests and calls for holding the officer accountable. 

Last year, two similar incidents led to rare protests after the killing of Islam al-Ostraly in Giza and Awais al-Rawy in Luxor by police officers. 

Human Rights Watch has meanwhile denounced the “torture epidemic” in Egypt carried out by security services under Sisi, describing it as “widespread and systematic”.

Prosecutors in the country commonly ignore complaints from those who suffer ill-treatment or torture at the hands of security services, creating an environment of impunity for what may amount to “crimes against humanity,” HRW said in a 2017 report.

While prosecuting officers for human rights abuses is a rarity in Egypt, judicial authorities have tried and sentenced several policemen for violent deaths in detention in recent years. These trials have often taken place when demonstrations took place protesting the killing. 

In 2015, two police officers accused of torturing and beating to death lawyer Karim Hamdi in Mattariya police station were jailed after a protest in front of the lawyers' syndicate.

In 2018, an officer in the Moqatam police station was sentenced to three years in prison after being found guilty of torturing and killing a young man nicknamed Afroto, whose death was also followed by protests. 

In July and August last year, Egypt's Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims documented around 55 incidents of torture in police detention, along with 15 deaths in police custody.