Hundreds of activists gathered outside the courthouse today in Alexandria that is hearing the case of Khaled Said, the young activist tortured to death, allegedly by policemen, last year. Many of the same activists participated in a demonstration yesterday earlier calling for justice for the martyrs of the revolution many believe was sparked by Khaled Said's murder, while others came especially from Cairo and other cities to witness a moment they have long waited for: justice for Khaled Said.
However, what they arrived for was not delivered as the court decided to delay its verdict until September pending further investigations. Disappointment was the main feeling all around the courthouse, even though some expected a delay after clashes between the families of the January 25 Revolution martyrs and the police in Tahrir Square Tuesday night and Wednesday.
“The revolution and the solidarity that Khaled Said enjoys has done his soul heavenly justice, but we haven’t seen state justice yet,” said Ahmed Said, brother of Khaled Said. Ahmed left the court directly after hearing the case was postponed. Said's mother could not come to court and Ahmed wanted to be with her when she learns that the case is delayed once again.
Alexandria didn’t sleep yesterday. Demonstrations were seen all over the city following images of a violent police crackdown on the families of the martyrs and protesters in Tahrir. Here in the northern port, people are worried that the killers of Khaled Said might escape justice, just as the officers accused of killing protesters during the January 25 Revolution have done, so far.
Alexandria’s criminal court adjourned to mid-October last week the trial of the former head of security, General Mohamed Ibrahim, while other officers accused of pre-meditated murder were released, prompting another mass demonstration Friday by the families of the martyrs.
Thus everyone was eyes wide open for the trial of Said, with hundreds of activists, martyrs families, and friends of Said pouring into the coastal city to attend and show solidarity.
Ahmed Said, 40, who works in real estate, remembers his brother’s murder in June 2010 as if it was yesterday. “They took him in a police truck and didn’t allow me to join. They took me to a police officer who kept me there for four hours and then they took me to the morgue to see his body. Apparently they spent all this time trying to fix the injures and bruises, but it was too obvious to clean. Already his head was open, his body was bruised all over, and his neck was broken, I took photos of him,” said Ahmed.
The powerful images of Khaled Said battered, with his teeth and jaw broken, led to seething outrage across Egypt. Protests against torture sprung up, with the establishment of “We are all Khaled Said” Facebook page that united thousands of Egyptians around the issue of police brutality, becoming one of the main sparks of the Egyptian revolution.
Said had earlier posted an internet video that purportedly showed two policemen sharing the spoils of a drug bust, sparking concern that his death was retaliation. Several eyewitnesses described how Khalid was taken by the two policemen into the entrance of a residential building where he was brutally punched and kicked. The two policemen smashed his head against a wall, on a staircase and on the entrance steps to the building.
Two policemen are named in the case: Warrant Officer Mahmoud Salah and Sergeant Awad Ismail Suleiman. They are accused of excessive force and illegal arrest. If convicted, they face between three and 20 years imprisonment. Lawyers for Said's family have asked that the charges be upped to murder.
Revolution can be felt everywhere in Alexandria, but in "Khaled Said Street," as residents of New Cleopatra district know it, it’s even tenser. Graffiti of Khaled waving the victory sign are seen on the walls and sides of the buildings.
“Khaled still lives among us ... I can feel him … look at his room ... isn’t it a room of someone so alive?” says Ahmed, Khaled’s best friend pointing at Khaled’s room. Khaled’s slippers are still there beside his bed. Revolutionary beats can be heard from the sound system where he used to compose songs for his rapper friends.
“They tried to accuse him of being the bad guy who was punished for being on drugs. Can an artist with such soft feelings be a thug? Isn't he an angel?” his friend Ahmed said, with tears in his eyes.
According to the popular Facebook page "We are all Khaled Said": “Said has become the symbol for many Egyptians who dream to see their country free of brutality, torture and ill treatment. Many young Egyptians are now fed up with the inhuman treatment they face on a daily basis in streets, police stations and everywhere. Egyptians want to see an end to all violence committed by any Egyptian policeman. Egyptians are aspiring to the day when Egypt has its freedom and dignity back, the day when the current 30-years-long emergency martial law ends and when Egyptians can freely elect their true representatives.”
After Khaled was killed, police authorities refused to investigate his death, saying that he died because he swallowed a package of marijuana. When many Egyptians started to ask questions, the police issued statements saying that Khaled was a drug user. Another official statement said that Khaled was an army deserter. After pressure mounted, and European Union representatives in Egypt asked for an impartial investigation, Egyptian authorities finally decided to question and arrest the two policemen involved. No one was charged with murder.
Torture is not new in Egypt. A recent study by the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) points to 900 reported torture cases between 1993 and 2010. What made the Khaled Said case different is that his family insisted on their rights — they refused to give up.
The government tried the carrot and the stick with the family. “The secret police used to come here everyday. They beat people in the street, come to the house, threaten us, they cut electricity off in the street, threatening to kill people in the dark. They almost run my wife over by car; some of our friends and relatives were kidnapped, some disappeared,” says Ahmed Said.
On the other end of the spectrum, “my uncle was offered land, my mother was offered a house, and we were offered a private Hajj trip." The last trial was a month ago when someone from the presidential palace came and offered help, in return that the case be withdrawn. “If the two policeman are convicted, this may open fire on the bigger heads in the police and state,” said Ahmed, explaining the tremendous pressure that made them popular in some circles but a danger to others.
“Nothing will bring my brother back, no money, power or family, but at least I need to see a fair end to those who ruthlessly murdered him,” said Ahmed, who hasn’t slept for days following on the events in Tahrir. Ahmed sat aimlessly staring at the Ahli and Zamalek football match last night, surrounded by Khaled’s friends in Khaled’s apartment where photos hang from the walls with slogans such as "Khaled Said: The revolution's key,” and “My blood is in your hands, Egyptians,” and “Khaled Said, the regime’s martyr.”
According to Mohammed Mahmoud, 27, a lawyer and a friend of Said, justice is far from done. “It’s sad that Said was honoured by the US and Obama, but not in Egypt, not by Sharaf or SCAF (Supreme Council for the Armed Forces). The US respects the revolution and the martyrs. Egypt’s new government doesn’t,” he said.
A few weeks ago the US Congress honoured Khaled Said and his sister, Zahra, gave a speech.
How did the revolution impact on the case of Khaled Said? Apparently, the pressure to abandon the case is less now, and many hope that such criminal trials have become more serious. “The trials before the revolution were mock trials; the hall is full of informants, and they rarely let anyone from our side in the court, except for his mother and brother, and sometimes me," said Mahmoud. "The rest are pushed out, humiliated, but now it is different,” he added.
Mahmoud believes that the postponing of the verdict could be a good thing. "We kept calling on the court to ignore the (official) forensic report that we believe is nothing but lies, and now the court is having a new forensic report made on the cause of death. Maybe this can mean that Khaled's killers will be finally tried as murderers," he told Ahram Online.
But still tears can still be seen in Mahmoud's eyes as he reflects on a year that has passed while the family and friends of Khaled Said are asked to wait for justice. “This slow rate of trials is the worst injustice. Its over a year now. How come his killers are still free? We are far from justice. If the punishment is not decisive, this will be repeated,” said Mahmoud.
Justice delayed is justice denied, activists say.