Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] warned on Tuesday that Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [NYT backgrounder] may attempt to cover up [press release] various aspects of the killing of more than two dozen mostly Coptic Christian demonstrators on October 9. The protests, which began in Maspero when approximately 1,000 Christians attempted a sit-in outside of the state television building, quickly turned violent with the arrival of the Egyptian military, and ultimately resulted in the deaths of 27 people, including 21 Christians. In defense of its generals, Egypt's ruling military council has asserted that the protesters began both the confrontation and the ensuing violence, which marks the single deadliest incident since the February overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile]. Although the council has placed military prosecutors in charge of investigating the incident, HRW has urged Egyptian officials to transfer the investigation to civilian prosecutors. Deputy Middle East and North Africa director Joe Stork argues this is the only way to legitimize the Egyptian rule of law under the new democracy:
The military cannot investigate itself with any credibility. This had been an essentially peaceful protest until the military used excessive force and military vehicles ran over protesters. The only hope for justice for the victims is an independent civilian-led investigation that the army fully cooperates with and cannot control and that leads to the prosecution of those responsible.As the demonstration moved toward the state television building, viewers were encouraged to aid the military in fending off the Christian protesters. Such encouragement from the state has led HRW to believe that an investigation into the Egypitan military's potential manipulation of the media is duly warranted. "The military has already has already tried to control the media narrative," added Stork, "and it should not be allowed to cover up what happened on October 9."
The Maspero Massacre marks yet another controversial incident regarding protests in Egypt even after the removal of its former president. In March, Arab and Egyptian human rights groups accused then-president Mubarak and police of murdering protesters during demonstrations, therein prompting the military council to instruct its top prosecutor to investigate the killings. Although the military council attempted to curb future demonstrations with a proposed law imposing prison sentences [JURIST report] and fines for those inciting protests, the legislation was widely condemned [press release] by international rights groups, namely HRW, as a violation of international law. In February, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] accused Egypt's military council of torturing protester-detainees [JURIST report]. Relying on detainee accounts, AI stated that individuals were tortured "to intimidate protesters and to obtain information about plans for the protests." HRW echoed this sentiment at the time in claiming that the Egyptian military was improperly detaining protesters and allowing prisoner abuse [JURIST report]. Despite a warning to the Egyptian government from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay [UN profile], in January to respect the rights of protesters [JURIST report], Egypt has endured criticism for the handling of its protests throughout the year.