Egyptian Government Report Absolves Army of Maspero Massacre
By Mary Abdelmassih
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(AINA) -- The fact-finding commission of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, NCHR, the official body which oversees human rights in the country, issued last Wednesday its report on the events of October 9, titled the "Maspero Massacre," where 27 Coptic Christian protesters were killed and over 329 more injured outside the State TV building in Maspero (AINA 10-10-2011).

The NCHR report drew angry responses from Copts and was blasted by NGOs and activist as a white wash of the military's role in the Maspero Massacre.

"The report of the commission as it stands ensured that the army is absolved of any responsibility of firing ammunition," said Dr. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization EUHRO. " NCHR provided evidence of innocence, in advance, for the army, without having the evidence to prove it."

Some activists argued that the report is invalid since it was issued by a commission of National Council for Human Rights, formed by a decree from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which is considered a subject of investigation in the Maspero incident.

The main controversy in the NCHR report was putting the blame of firing live ammunition on "unidentified" civilians who targeted both the peaceful protesters and the military police, asserting that no live ammunition was fired on the protesters by the military, as the army only fired blanks in the air to disperse the protesters. "Those assailants could not be identified, but we described them as civilians because this is how they were dressed," said a member of the NCHR committee at the press conference on November 2.

EUHRO issued a statement rejecting these claims as they were not based on technical reports from the criminal lab and forensic medicine. EUHRO said in its statement " did the committee determine that the shooters of live ammunition were civilians without conducting an investigations in this matter, or were they military personnel in civilian clothes?"

Magdy Khalil, member of Coptic Solidarity International, an NGO representing Coptic activists from all continents, blasted the report in an article, pointing out its contradictions and the lack of answers to many vital questions. "It committed itself strictly to the framework set out by the SCAF press conference of October 13 and to the strategic objective of acquitting the military."

In its own breakdown of the events, NCHR's report described the procession as peaceful, according to the consensus of witnesses, and protesters carried crosses of wood or plastic together with flags of Egypt and banners condemning the demolition of churches and demanding a unified law for building places of worship.

"However, in the next page of its 14-page report, NCHR says the demonstrators hurled stones at the military police at the beginning of the march," said Magdy Khalil, "and on page 3 it says that some of the demonstrators were carrying clubs, swords, and knives -- corroborating what was said at the SCAF press conference on October 13. In one part of the report it says that the demonstrators jumped on one of the army armored vehicles and set fire to it, while in another part, it says that the "unidentified civilians" were the culprits."

Copts expected the Coptic Orthodox Church to criticize the report. Bishop Bassanti of Helwan said "I only care about what the report said, that the demonstrators did not carry weapons at all. I believe they should have been protected by the army instead of the army being their opponent." He added that all losses suffered by the demonstrators in these events are the responsibility of the state.

Although the report acknowledges that 12 Copts were run over and crushed under the wheels of armored vehicles, it asserts this was not deliberate, saying the armored vehicles were used to disperse the demonstrators, but because of their extremely high speed in the midst of the crowds, this led to the death of 12 citizens.

"The report does not clarify who is responsible and describes it as non-deliberate mistakes," said Khalil.

"The report criticized the performance of the Egyptian television coverage of events, calling it professional error, not crimes of incitement," says a statement by the Maspero Coptic Youth Union (MCYU), a Coptic activist group and organizers of the protest on October 9 . MCYU also criticized the use by the fact-finding committee of the term "unknown civilians" opening fire on the military police and civilian demonstrators, which it views as in attempt not to directly charge anybody in particular. They confirmed the presence of video footage which clearly show the perpetrators of the attacks on Coptic demonstrators (this video shows army snipers hiding in the TV building).

MCYU called for an independent fact-finding committee to investigate the incident, away from the influence of military courts. They also demanded that the Information Minister and Egyptian State TV officials be made accountable for lying in their coverage of the incident, "which almost caused sectarian strife."

The NCHR report called for an immediate investigation by an independent civilian fact-finding committee, as well as the punishment of perpetrators.

Judge Amir Ramzi, member of the National Commission for Justice, said that the fact-finding report of the NCHR lacks investigative techniques, and got no cooperation from the authorities, however, some of its recommendations were reasonable.

According to El Wafd newspaper, Ramzi said that next week he will present a detailed report of the events of Maspero, supported by video and audio footage, to the Military Council, the Council of Ministers, and the fact-finding commission of the Ministry of Justice. A fact-finding commission was formed by the Cabinet in the wake of the events, headed by its minister of Justice.

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