Egypt Policemen Back On Trial In Brutality Case

Two Egyptian policemen are back on trial in Alexandria for the beating death of Khaled Said at an Internet parlor on June 6. Two plainclothes policemen dragged the 28-year-old man away after he refused to show them his identification, according to witnesses who say that the officers then repeatedly slammed Said's head into nearby stone steps until he was dead.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

In Egypt, the death of a 28-year-old businessman has become a rallying point against police brutality. Many Egyptians argue that three decades of martial law in the Arab country have given security forces there too much unchecked power. But many are hopeful that will crumble with a trial that is currently capturing headlines around the world.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in the city of Alexandria, where the case is unfolding. And Soraya, tell us more about the trial, and give us an update.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Well, this trial is over the alleged beating death in June of Khaled Said. And he comes from a middle-class family and by all accounts, is what you would call an average Egyptian. And eyewitnesses say he was arrested by police officers in front of an Internet cafe, and that these officers beat him in front of the witnesses - who say that they slammed his head into nearby stone steps until he died.

And the family says the crime was apparently - that he had posted some videos of police officers in his local Alexandria neighborhood dealing in hashish. Police, however, say they came to arrest him because he was dealing drugs. But most Egyptians don't buy this official version. And as a result, there was an overwhelming public response, including protests and petitions. And the government ended up issuing rare charges against the two officers, implicating them in his death.

So that trial began last month here in Alexandria, but it was adjourned after only 90 minutes. It resumed yesterday, but the same thing happened. Within two hours, the judges again called for a delay.

HANSEN: What's causing the delays?

NELSON: The three-judge panel is saying that they're delaying this until October 23rd because - yesterday's excuse, anyway - was that they couldn't hear most of the eyewitnesses. And that's because the eyewitnesses weren't actually allowed into the courthouse. They were standing outside. I saw some of them myself.

Security forces were intimidating them; intimidating protesters and journalists. And they even had pro-police protesters out there, who were getting pretty violent - throwing sticks and the like.

And at the same time, this delay seems to give the government time to drum up a smear campaign to discredit Khaled Said and his family.

HANSEN: What does the victim's family say?

NELSON: Well, the mother, Layla, is incredibly angry and frightened that more of her children will be injured for standing up to the system. I mean, she lost her youngest son, and there are three other children. And Khaled's older brother, Ahmed, is particularly upset because there was a newspaper that was handed out yesterday by the pro-police protesters. It seemed to be a fake newspaper. But it had a picture of his American passport information. And underneath, in Arabic, it said that the passport showed that he was, in fact, Jewish.

Apparently, this was an attempt to stir up anti-Semitism here in Egypt. Even though there are relations between Egypt and Israel, most Egyptians are very much anti-Israel. And of course, American passports, as you know, don't have people's religions in them. So this was just sort of trumped up in this newspaper.

HANSEN: And briefly, what are the Egyptian government and international community saying about the trial?

NELSON: Well, the Egyptian government is brisling at foreign response. I mean, there's been some international criticism and pressure for this case to be investigated thoroughly. But the Mubarak government considers this a domestic issue.

HANSEN: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, joining us from Alexandria, Egypt. Soraya, thank you very much.

NELSON: You're welcome.

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