Egyptian fish vendor latest victim of alleged police abuses

2016-11-19 11:30
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Cairo - While riding his horse-drawn cart, an Egyptian street vendor was allegedly seized, beaten, and tortured to death by the Egyptian police, according to his family and lawyer - the latest in a string of reports of police brutality that have triggered public outrage.

The 53-year-old Magdy Maken, a fish cart vendor, was arrested on Sunday at midnight after an altercation with a policeman, his family's lawyer Ali al-Halawani told The Associated Press.

After beating him in the street, the lawyer said, the Coptic Christian Maken was taken to a police station in Cairo's middle-class neighborhood of el-Ameriyah. Hours later, his lifeless body was brought to a nearby hospital with "torture marks," according to al-Halawani.

Videos of the vendor's bloodied body later surfaced on social media.

In one of the videos, a hospital worker de-shrouded Maken's corpse to reveal a bleeding backside and bruises on his face.

A judicial official told The AP that "unusual circumstances" surrounded the death.

Contradicting testimonies 

He said police reported arresting Maken for possession of tramadol - a cheap and thus commonly abused painkiller - and that Maken later died of diabetes-related complications.

He said surveillance cameras inside the police station showed Maken arriving alongside police with the seized drugs.

"If there was beating and torture, it wouldn't have been caught on camera anyway," he said, adding that the two friends who were arrested with Maken gave contradicting testimonies, with one alleging police torture and the other denying it.

The official said that while the arresting officer and witnesses were questioned, the forensics report, which he said will be issued within two weeks, will be key in determining the cause of death.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the press.

Maken's son, the 30-year-old Malak, told the AP that the last time he saw his father was late on Sunday when Maken was heading out to buy food for his horse.

On the way, his father got into a quarrel with another driver and a policeman intervened by insulting both parties, said Malak.

'It was a horrible scene' 

"My father responded to the policeman's insults by saying 'and you too' and that was it!" he said. "People told me that then it was as if the police were playing football with my father's body. They beat him in a barbaric way and dragged his body across the asphalt," he said.

When Malak inspected the body, he said he saw "bruises, and one of his testes smashed".

"It was a horrible scene. I can't describe," he said.

Malak said his father supports a family of 12 and his only source of income is selling fish from his cart.

In an attempted naming-and-shaming exercise, some local activists posted pictures online of the officer who allegedly beat Maken to death.

The authenticity of the photos could not be immediately verified.

Anger at police brutality was a main grievance and driving force behind the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Too much police freedom

Under President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt witnessed a significant rise in cases of police torture, deaths in detention, and forced disappearances.

Activists accuse Sisi's government of allowing police too much free rein, which authorities have justified as needed to clamp down on political opponents, mostly the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sisi's predecessor, the ousted president Mohammed Morsi, belongs to the Islamist group.

In February, an Italian student's body was found by the side of a Cairo road, marked with cigarette burns and other signs of torture.

Italy has demanded that those responsible be brought to justice. Egypt has dismissed suggestions its security services may have been involved.

In September, following series of controversial incidents, el-Sissi called for a new law, or amending existing legislation to hold police accountable for abuses.

One incident involved police officers allegedly assaulting two emergency room doctors at a Cairo hospital, sparking large protests by doctors.

Days later, a policeman shot and killed a driver, sparking spontaneous protests where demonstrators blocked roads and surrounded a security headquarters in Cairo.

Just three days following Maken's death, another police officer received life imprisonment for killing another street vendor earlier this year, in an argument over the price of a cup of tea. The episode also ignited demonstrations.

The interior ministry has justified the incidents as isolated. While often initially receiving heavy sentences for abuses, Egypt's policemen typically get acquitted on appeal.

Read more on:    mohammed morsi  |  abdel fattah al-sisi  |  egypt  |  north africa

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