Victim of Egyptian police torture says 'officers were helping me'

Mostafa Ali, Sunday 3 Feb 2013

Less than 24 hours after millions watched CSF officers beating and dragging him naked in anti-Morsi protest, the victim, in police custody without lawyers, says 'he gave scared officers a hard time'

Beaten and dragged man
A snapshot of the video that was aired late on Friday

Hamada Saber, the man who was dragged and beaten by Central Security Forces (CSF) as recorded on a video aired by Al-Hayat satellite TV on Friday night, told prosecutors on Saturday that protesters and not security forces "initiated" the assault against him, according to a report on Ahram Arabic news website.

The one-and-a-half minute video that shocked Egypt and the world showed an unarmed, naked Saber repeatedly kicked by police officers, dragged on the asphalt and beaten with batons as CSF officers battled anti-Morsi protesters in the vicinity of the presidential Palace on Friday night.

Speaking from a police hospital where he is recieving medical treatment, the 50 year old house-painter told investigators that the CSF officers protected him, adding that "the ministry of interior is standing by my side and they are providing me with medical care."

However, late on Friday night, in a phone call also to ONTV, Reda Sobhi, Saber's nephew, had condemned the police attack on his uncle saying Saber was peacefully attending the protest with his wife and children.

"God is our only saviour," Sobhi told the Satellite channel ONTV in desperation saying he and lawyers failed to locate his uncle's whereabouts in the hours after the video of the assault was aired as police declined to give them exact information of where they took Saber.

'My behaviour put officers in harm's way'

However, in a shocking turnaround of events on Saturday, Saber and his wife, speaking from the same police hospital the CSF transferred Saber to in the wake of their assault on him, seemed to blame the protesters for the bulk of the suffering he was subjected to on the previous night.

"I was standing at Roxy Square [near the palace] drinking a soda, when a large number of protesters who mistook me for a CSF officer because of my black attire attacked me and stripped me of my clothes," said Saber.

"The protesters were angered by the fact that I tried to dissuade them from firing bird shots at the police," claimed Saber.

Fathya, the assaulted man's wife who was by his bedside at the police hospital, sent a message of gratitude to the ministry of interior.

"The police are very respectful and are standing by our side, and the minister's assistant for human rights has passed by and will come again tomorrow [Saturday]," Fathya told ONTV.

Moreover, on Saturday night, Saber, told state TV that he was caught in the fight between protesters and the police.

"The protesters fired an unknown bullet at me and robbed me. When I saw the CSF soldiers coming at the crowd, I was scared and I ran. The soldiers chased after me yelling they wanted to help me. When I fell, they caught me and said: 'you gave us a hard time, man.'"

Police and presidency conduct immediate damage control

Immediately after the gruesome assault video hit channels and social media outlets worldwide on Friday night, the ministry of interior issued a statement condemning the attack, and vowed to open an immediate inquiry.

As the Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim faced angry calls for him to resign, the statement assured the public that "the ministry rejects the involvement of its officers in such assaults which affect the relationship between the people and the police."

As many activists held President Morsi politically responsible for the assault on Saber because of his publicly stated, unconditional support for police actions against protesters, the presidency also issued a statement condemning the assault.

"The presidency was pained by the shocking footage of policemen dragging a protester in a way inconsistent with dignity and human rights."

More than damage control?

News reports leaked from "investigators" and "authorities" to media outlets throughout the day on Saturday threw doubts in some people's minds on what actually Saber did, what the police did, and what the police wanted the world to think had happened on Friday night.

One report picked up by a number of online papers, for example, said that investigators who were questioning Saber could charge the assault victim with possession of 18 Molotov cocktail bombs and two buckets of gasoline intended for making fire bombs.

Later in the day, the minister of interior reportedly called the victim to apologise on behalf of the ministry and promised to offer Saber, who described himself to media as a day labourer who is chronically short on gigs, a regular job.

In the early hours of Saturday night, Saber, who seemed to be recovering well at the police hospital, made the rounds on Satellite TV.

In one such interview, Saber told Al-Hayat TV that the police had a good reason to treat him the way they did because he was resisting arrest.

"I understand what they did because the protesters were near and I was giving them a hard time."

As the Al-Hayat reporter pressed Saber to explain how he was being saved by his attackers, the man insisted: I know what is in my best self-interest. Do not instigate serious problems for me."

Lawyers charge government abused Saber twice

Mohamed Zaree, the head of the Cairo-based Arab Association for Criminal Reform, accused the ministry of interior of torturing Hamada Saber twice.

"The first time outside the presidential palace and the second time by threatening him to parrot its retarded scenarios of what happened," Zaree told Ahram Arabic news website.

"We feel sorry for him because he was tortured in front of the world then he was mentally abused into lying about the facts iinside of the police hospital in the absence of any lawyers."

Zaree said that the police on Saturday prevented himself and other rights lawyers from visiting the victim in the hospital claiming that they had no legal credentials to speak to him.

By Saturday night, new media reports circulated that the prosecutors found it hard to believe Saber's version of what happened to him ordering the investigation to continue.

"President Mohamed Morsi and the minister of interior are solely responsible for the carrying out of systematic torture which violates all international codes of human rights," Zaree said.

Beaten and dragged man

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