Victim of police torture changes testimony, accuses officers

Ahram Online, Nada Hussein Rashwan, Monday 4 Feb 2013

In new twist, 50-year-old Hamada Saber – shown on live TV being stripped and beaten in last week's protest at Presidential Palace – retracts earlier testimony exonerating police

Victim of police torture changes testimony
Hamada Saber (Photo: Ahram Arabic News Website)

An Egyptian man captured on video being beaten and dragged naked by security forces during Friday's clashes outside the Presidential Palace in Cairo changed his testimony while speaking to prosecutors on Sunday, accusing police – not protesters – of stripping him naked and assaulting him.

Hamada Saber had earlier told investigators that police had not been responsible for stripping him naked and beating him, prompting many observers to suspect that he had been pressured by security officials into giving false testimony.

During anti-government protests outside the Presidential Palace on Friday evening, a group of soldiers from Egypt's Central Security Forces (CSF) were filmed beating and dragging Saber's prone body. The footage, aired by Egypt's Al-Hayat satellite channel, provoked outrage among certain quarters.

But in a Sunday telephone interview with Al-Hayat, Saber's story changed considerably.

"I told [prosecutors] today that [police] shot me in the leg, beat me and dragged me," he said. "When I resisted, they tore off my shirt. After I resisted some more, they tore off my pants and underpants. They kept telling me to stand up and I kept telling them I was injured."

"All I wanted was to run away from the police vehicle so that they wouldn't be able to detain me," he continued.

"Now my family has disowned me; my wife and kids won't talk to me. The whole country is angry at me for [giving false testimony]," Saber said.

He went on to explain: "They took very good care of me at the police hospital, so I thought to myself, 'Let it go; no need to make the issue bigger, as the country can't handle it now. No one pressured me or offered me money [to change my testimony]."

In the incident's immediate aftermath, Saber had told investigators that he had been assaulted by anti-government protesters after "trying to dissuade them from firing birdshot at police." The policemen had, in fact, been trying to help him, he attested.

The following day, in a telephone interview with Al-Hayat, Saber repeated the same narrative, leading to suspicions that he had either been bribed or tortured into giving false testimony.

On Saturday, the interior ministry issued a statement voicing its "regret" for the incident, insisting it had been an "individual act" that would be subject to investigation. And on Sunday, public prosecutors announced that a police officer and 15 CSF conscripts were currently under investigation for their alleged roles in the incident.

A Heliopolis court, meanwhile, has launched a separate investigation into alleged attacks by police against protesters outside the Presidential Palace on Friday. One protester was killed and 40 injured in the violence, while 13 police officers were also reported wounded.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, for his part, has reportedly called Saber personally to offer his apologies. The incident has renewed demands by some quarters for Ibrahim's dismissal and radical reform of the ministry, which during the era of ousted president Hosni Mubarak had been notorious for committing human rights breaches.

The protests near the Presidential Palace, organised by 16 opposition parties and movements, turned violent when anti-government demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails at the building, resulting in a limited fire in the palace garden. Police responded by heavily tear-gassing them and using birdshot to disperse them, according to Ahram Online reporters at the scene.

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