Egypt victim becomes protest symbol

Cairo - A 28-year-old man reportedly beaten to death by police in Egypt's northern city of Alexandria last week has become the latest symbol of police brutality among tech-savvy Egyptian activists.

Posters of Khaled Said have been carried at demonstrations while Facebook groups dedicated to him have been created since he was allegedly dragged from an Internet cafe in front of witnesses and beaten to death in the street.

Several Egyptian activists have put Said's image as their own profile picture on Facebook, and he also has his own hashtag on Twitter.

One Facebook group, with more than 142 000 members and entitled "My name is Khaled Mohammed Said" in Arabic – click here - calls for those accused of torture to be brought to justice.

Egypt's Interior Ministry issued a statement on Saturday saying Said died after swallowing a bag of narcotics as he was approached by police.

But rights groups and witnesses reject the official account, saying the incident is proof that Egypt's decades-old emergency law, which was recently renewed for a further two years, has created a legacy of police impunity.

Graphic pictures of a bruised and battered Said have appeared on social networking websites, sparking public outcry and condemnation from local and international rights groups.

Horrific photographs

On Friday, Amnesty International called for an "immediate, full and independent investigation" into Said's death.

"The horrific photographs are shocking evidence of the abuses taking place in Egypt," Amnesty said.

"These pictures are a rare, first-hand glimpse of the routine use of brutal force by the Egyptian security forces, who expect to operate in a climate of impunity, with no questions asked."

The Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights and the El-Nadeem Center, who are both following the case closely, have demanded an investigation into the case and an end to the emergency law.

On Monday, the state-owned Al-Gomhouria daily, which often acts as the government mouthpiece, accused those posting the pictures of being unpatriotic.

"Posting the picture is not proof of police brutality," the paper said in a front-page editorial, accusing activists of using post-autopsy pictures to claim that Said had been tortured.

"Do you hate Egypt that much?" the paper asked.

"One cannot stay silent before this type of instigation against Egypt, because it aims to tarnish Egypt and its human rights (record)," it said.

Witnesses have come forward on television to recount their versions of what happened to Said - proof that traditional fear of the police is starting to fade, commentators say.

According to several reports, Said was sitting in an Internet cafe when two plain clothes policemen tried to search him. When he refused, he was dragged out and beaten to death on a busy Alexandria street in plain sight of passers-by.

High-profile case

"They kept beating him. He tried to defend himself so they slammed his head against the wall," one witness told the Mahatet Masr programme on Egyptian satellite television.

"When he fell to the ground, they kicked him in the stomach and face until he started bleeding from the mouth. We tried to tell them he's dead and they insisted he was just pretending," another witness said.

"A police car came and took him away and 15 minutes later, it came back and dumped his body outside the Internet cafe," he said.

Neighbours have described Said as a "typical young man" who spent much of his time listening to music and browsing the internet.

Protests have broken out demanding his alleged torturers be brought to justice, and on Sunday some 30 people were detained in a demonstration outside the interior ministry.

The last such high-profile case was that of minibus driver Emad al-Kabir, shown to be sodomised with a stick by two policemen in widely circulated video footage that sparked national outrage in 2007.

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