Police Brutality Trial Continues In Egypt

The trial of two Egyptian policemen accused of beating a man to death continues in Alexandria. Eyewitnesses at the trial say the officers slammed the victim's head into stone steps until he died, but police say they were only trying to dislodge a packet of drugs from his throat. The case has received international attention, and some hope the trial will bring an end to the claimed culture of police brutality in the country.

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We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

In Alexandria, Egypt, the ongoing trial of two policemen accused of beating a young man to death is turning violent. Many Egyptians are hoping the rare trial will help bring an end to what they view as a deeply rooted culture of police brutality in their country.

But as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from outside the courthouse, Egyptian security agents are using intimidation and force to try to derail the proceedings.

(Soundbite of political protest)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Protests against Egyptian security forces over the death of Khaled Said are hardly new. They've gone on weekly since early June. That's when eyewitnesses claim two police officers dragged the 28-year-old away from an Internet caf� here in Alexandria and repeatedly slammed his head into nearby stone steps until he was dead.

But there was something odd about these 100 or so male demonstrators outside of the courthouse on Saturday morning.

(Soundbite of political protest)

NELSON: The young men, who were the only ones allowed on the courthouse steps, were demonstrating for the police, which formed a protective cordon around them. These protesters called Khaled Said a drug user who was resisting arrest. They shouted at his supporters nearby, calling them, quote, "Jews and agents for Israel." One protester is Mohammed Ahmed Said(ph).

Mr. MOHAMMED AHMED SAID: (Through translator) Nobody would be able to walk the streets if the police wasn't here.

NELSON: The 30-year-old eventually admits he's a police officer. He and other protesters don't answer when asked if they were paid to come here.

(Soundbite of political protest)

NELSON: The hostility escalated with pro-police demonstrators threatening and pelting their rivals with sticks and water bottles. Those rivals try making light of the anti-Semitic remarks and attacks.

At least half of them are veiled Muslim women like librarian Iman Said(ph).

Ms. IMAN SAID: This is not an insult. This is religion. So this is pretty na�ve and pretty hilarious, I think.

NELSON: Fellow protester and activist Hassan Mustafa was less amused.

Mr. HASSAN MUSTAFA: (Speaking foreign language)

NELSON: He shouts at a fellow protester who is flinging newspapers at the pro-police crowd. That crowd had first thrown the papers at him. Mustafa shouts, don't you know they'll throw worse things at you if you do this?

What was going on inside the courthouse is less clear. Security agents used force and threats to keep just about everyone from entering the building. Those who made it inside say the courtroom was packed with supporters of defendants Awad Suleiman and Mahmoud Salaheddin(ph).

Each police officer is charged with illegal arrest and use of excessive force. Lawyers for the victim's family last month asked the judges to upgrade the charge to murder. Attorneys for the defendants this weekend asked that everything except the excessive force count be dropped.

Mr. AHMED MOHSEN(ph) (Attorney): (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Defense lawyer Ahmed Mohsen says even that charge is only necessary because they were acting in an official capacity. He claims half the bruises were the result of the officers beating on the victim to save his life. He explains they were trying to dislodge a packet of drugs from his throat.

But Said's family and many others believe that packet was placed in the victim's throat shortly after he was killed. It's a belief bolstered by eyewitnesses who claim police took the body away in a vehicle and returned a short while later to dump it.

The judges on Saturday refused to rule on whether to amend the charges, saying they wanted to hear from the majority of eyewitnesses who couldn't make it. That's in part because authorities were keeping some of them outside.

(Soundbite of political protest)

NELSON: Like this man who was shoved back by a couple of plainclothes agents time and again. He pleads in Arabic, let me in, I'm a witness.

Ms. LAYLA MARZOUK: (Foreign language spoken)

Said's grieving mother, Layla, who did make it inside, is rattled.

Ms. MARZOUK: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Back at her son's apartment, his mother says the stepped-up police intimidation she witnessed at the courthouse has her fearing for her family's safety now more than ever.

Lawyers for both sides say the trial is scheduled to resume on October 23rd.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News in Alexandria, Egypt.

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