Maspero survivors finally testify: army shot at unarmed demonstrators without provocation

Nada Hussein Rashwan, Thursday 13 Oct 2011

Multiple eyewitness survivors of 'Bloody Sunday' at Maspero answer SCAF, say military police shot at unarmed Coptic and Muslim demonstrators, APC's crushed people repeatedly, and afterwards police searched for 'Christians'

Maspero 10 14
Families of dead at Maspero on Bloody Sunday grieving next to loved ones(Photo: AP)

In a large press conference held Thursday afternoon, multiple civilian eyewitnesses recounted to reporters what they saw on the night of 9 October, when a peaceful march of thousands of Coptic and Muslims protesters, which was headed towards the TV headquarters at Maspero near Tahrir square to demand equal rights for Egypt’s 8 million Christians, turned into deadly clashes with the military police, leaving behind 24 protesters dead, 329 injured and a divided and confused public.

The headquarters of Tahrir daily newspaper in the Dokki district of Cairo, where the press conference was held, bustled since the morning hours with press members and activists trying to squeeze into the event to hear first-hand testimonies from survivors of "Bloody Sunday".

In order to resolve the congestion, organizers set up two simultaneous press conferences in adjacent offices at the paper’s headquarters, with different eyewitnesses speaking in each.

The conference was organized byThe Revolution Youth Coalition, the Workers Democratic Party, The Popular Committees to defend the revolution, Revolutionary Socialists, the Popular Socialist Alliance Party, No to Military Trials Campaign, and the National Front for Freedom and Justice.

Activists called the event and prepared for it in less than 24 hours of an international press conference the ruling military council (SCAF) held on Wednesday to present the army’s side of what happened on 9 October in front of the TV building to a divided public opinion.

SCAF members who spoke at the press conference on Wednesday read statements and showed reporters photos and videos that allegedly prove the military did not fire at the peaceful protest, and that military vehicles could not have "intentionally" run over the protesters that night as survivors and eyewitnesses have said.

SCAF generals at their press conference also charged that protesters were armed, and asserted that the military police only carried anti-riot gear, and no live ammunition, at Maspero.

Rights lawyer Rajia Omran, one of the conference organizers and a member of No to Military Trials campaign, opened the conference by reading a press release signed by 17 political parties and movements, as well as 12 public figures.

The statement strongly rejected the violence used by security and military forces in the protest, describing the incident as a "full-fledged conspiracy" by SCAF against peaceful protesters.

The press statement called for an end to SCAF's rule of Egypt, and the formation of a new transitional government with "absolute jurisdiction".

It also called for the immediate prosecution of the perpetrators of the Maspero massacre, the elimination of state control over the media, and the resolution of longstanding Coptic grievances by issuing laws that grant them equal rights.

First to speak was Magda Adly, head of El-Nadeem Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture.

Adly had attended the autopsy of eight of the bodies of those killed on “Bloody Sunday” at the Coptic Hospital on the night of the protest.

Describing the autopsy results, Adly saidsix of the eight corpses were run over by "heavyweight vehicles", and two received "excessive" gunshots.’

"The autopsy report was written in front of me. I just hope that would be the same report that will be submitted to the Prosecutor General at the end of the day," Adly added.

Tony Sabry, a friend of Mina Danial, a Copt and a well-known Tahrir revolutionary, who was killed in the clashes, gave his account.

Sabry said he personally saw a body being thrown into the water of Nile by military police soldiers.

Sabry said he also witnessed the moment Mina was killed.

"He received a bullet from the front and one from the back", he said.

The following speaker, Assem Kandil, one of the lawyers of some of January 25th revolution martyrs in the Mubarak murder trial underway in Egyptian courts, said he and a number of his coworkers were in their office in a building next to Maspero when the clashes began.

"We heard the gunfire from our office at the sixth floor, so I called the emergency police, and they said they were already informed of the incident," Kandil recalled.

"A number of soldiers, or people dressed as soldiers of the central security forces and the military police, stormed the building and started breaking the glass on the floor windows, then they proceeded to break doors.

“They asked residents in other apartments for ID in order to find out their religion," he added.

"After they left, we started seeing dead bodies being transferred into the building by protesters," he concluded.

Max Soliman, another witnesses, started his testimony by showing a number of videos on a laptop screen, and explained where and when he shot the footage.

The first video showed military soldiers penetrating the protest, firing what he said he could confirm as live ammunition at the unarmed protesters.

The second video showed one of the military soldiers boasting to a group of people who were aiding the military police on the ground: "I killed two of those infidels" referring to Copts who were in the protest. The helpers responded victoriously with the chant "Allah Akbar" or God is great.

None of the videos that Soliman showed revealed any protesters carrying weapons as SCAF claimed in its press conference on Wednesday.

Soliman asserted that the footage was recorded off television with a cell-phone camera.

“No one can claim they were edited" he insisted.

An anchor in one of two Satellite TV channels located adjacent to the state TV building, which were stormed by the security and military police during the hours of the clashes on Sunday attended the conference to give his testimony.

Hossam Haddad of 25 January Channel said a central security officers accompanied by military police, stormed his station’s offices and told the crew they were looking for rioters.

"They asked for our IDs, and a central security officer kicked one of our cameramen in the face as soon as he read on his ID card that he was Christian."

"They raised their guns on our anchor, an eight-months pregnant woman, who was in the midst of presenting live coverage of the protests and clashes and ordered live coverage must be immediately halted.”

Another protester, Safeya Abdallah, a Muslim girl who was in the protest, said some protesters did beat up an army driver who was commandeering a military Armoured Personal Carrier (APC) and burned the vehicle, as SCAF said, but only after demonstrators saw that APC run over a fellow unarmed protester twice.

As she spoke, Safeya held in her hand a live bullet that she said was taken from the ammunition belt of one of the military soldiers.

"We saw the military soldiers smash those private cars SCAF said we smashed. We did not smash them. However, we did burn them after the soldiers had smashed them in order to prevent APC’s from getting to us," she said.

“The Copts did not burn down the army’s vehicles. Muslim supporters did it to protect everyone," she added.

An elderly woman, who is known among activists as one of the "revolutionary mothers", also gave a testimony of what she witnessed.

“We were sitting at a café near Tahrir with a group of young activists when we heard of the clashes taking place at Maspero. On our way to Maspero, we saw central security trucks loaded with bricks and stones,” she said.

Mohamed El-Zayatt, a Muslim who joined the protest, said a fellow protester who found him marching alone at the beginning of the peaceful march held his hand in a comradely gesture and the two strolled together demanding equality for Copts.

“ When the shooting started the man took a bullet in his head. Two or Three people helped me attempt to carry my companion away, but then we saw an APC charging at us at a very high speed, as if it was being driven by a drunkard, so we had to drop the wounded man and run to protect our own lives" El-Zayatt said with a guilty tone.

The last speaker at the conference was Gamila Ismail, a journalist and former state TV presenter, who focused on slamming state TV for its bias against Copts and uncritical support for SCAF.

Ismail told the crowd said she believes the government brought back the post of the minister of information last July after it was abolished in March in order to put state media at the service of SCAF.

She added that one of the State TV presenters, who was accused of inciting people against Copts during the live coverage of the protest, confessed after a wave of public criticism that news bulletins covering the clashes that night were actually written by a military official from SCAF.

Gamila also charged that former state security officers might have been providing paid thugs to back up military police at clashes with peaceful protesters, as they, she asserted, did on "Bloody Sunday"..

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