‘Extraordinary rendition’ has passed into common parlance over the last year as human rights organisations have accused the US government of exporting suspects to be tortured in regimes like Egypt, Morocco and Syria. But while cases involving international suspects get the headlines, these countries are regularly cited by human rights activists as having a major domestic torture problem, with the police in particular seeming to act with total impunity.
Now in Egypt, bloggers have struck a blow against police torture, by publicising videos shot by police officers of their colleagues beating suspects, and of police cadets receiving training. Add to this articles in the independent press and protests by civil society organisations, what’s fast becoming a national campaign is gathering momentum.
Demagh Mak and Wael Abbas writing in Arabic, and others writing in English, such as Hossam e-Hamalawy, have consistently sought out and brought to light videos of incidents of police brutality on their blogs over the past few months. It’s videos like this one – uploaded by Wael Abbas – that appear to be shifting the debate:
As reported by Hossam el-Hamalawy, an investigation has been launched into the conduct of the officer shown slapping the suspect in the above video, although it has now emerged that the officer in question has not yet been suspended from duty.
The brutality of Egypt’s police is not a new story – Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights have regularly documented and condemned police brutality in briefings and reports.
But sustained pressure from the bloggers, and the publication of an investigative piece into the police torture video in the independent Egyptian weekly newspaper, El-Fagr, have forced the story into the mainstream. On 27th November 2006, El-Fagr published an expose on violence against suspects in the country’s police stations, identifying the officers in the video above, and describing a second, much more brutal video.
Hot on the heels of the Chinese government’s claim of a 22.1% reduction in “mass incidents” (read “protests”), here’s some more video of “mass incidents” from China, in case you missed this portion of John Kennedy’s latest Beijing bulletin:
Backing up to China late last month, students at one technical college in East China’s Jiangxi province found out from a television show that they wouldn’t be getting the four-year university diplomas they had been promised, and some started rioting. There was bloggage here, here and camera footage posted here, but the story didn’t hit YouTube until a few days later. Video clips of the two thousand-strong team of police and soldiers arriving at the school, moving in, inspecting dorms, chasing students and attacking them here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7.
To give you a taste, here’s video number 7, showing the police dispersing protesters:
Hop over to Technorati right now and you’ll see that six out of the top fifteen videos being linked to by bloggers show the same incident – University of California police officers using a taser gun on an Iranian-American student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, in the Powell Library at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). Here’s one of those videos, from UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, which explains the story (which contains some graphic imagery and abusive language):
For more background and reaction, take a look at Iranian group blog Iranian Truth‘s coverage of this story. There may be more coverage in the Persian-language blogosphere – Los Angeles has such a significant Iranian population that it’s sometime humorously called Tehrangeles…
The UCLA incident is one of three videos of different incidents showing police in Los Angeles appearing to use excessive force when arresting suspects. All three videos were shot by ordinary citizens. The first video of the three emerged on YouTube, and showed an LAPD officer punching a handcuffed suspect repeatedly in the face after a foot chase. The second video, which has not appeared online yet, but was shown as evidence to the L.A. Times by the victim’s lawyer on Monday 13th November, involved a homeless, handcuffed suspect being doused in pepper spray by the arresting officer. The officer has since been cleared of wrongdoing, citing the officer’s restraint in the face of the victim’s “belligerent, threatening and combative behavior”.
Emily at PicturePhoning.com provides links to other incidents involving police captured on video by citizens both in the USA and elsewhere. This seems to testify to a trend that can only grow as more and more people get access to videophones. Some groups are encouraging citizens to use their phones and cameras to record abuses by the police and to upload the clips to video-sharing sites. Sherman Austin, a founder of Cop Watch L.A., a police watchdog website, told a Yahoo! reporter that:
We urge everyone to have a camera on them at all times so if anything happens it can be documented. The concept of patrolling the police is something we are trying to push as a form of direct action.
Do you think this could be an effective form of scrutiny of the police?
Journalism seems like a precarious profession to practise in Mexico. It’s ranked by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist.
The latest tragic example of this came on Friday 27th October, in the southern state of Oaxaca, with the shooting of Brad Will. Brad was in Oaxaca as a journalist for New York City Indymedia, trying to get stories out about the protests in Oaxaca (for up-to-date accounts and context of the crisis in Oaxaca, read my GV colleague David Sasaki’s latest post). While filming skirmishes between paramilitaries and protestors in Santa Lucia on Friday afternoon, Brad was shot in the abdomen and neck, and died from his injuries, prompting the CPJ to call on the government to investigate Will’s death. Now Indymedia has released the tape that was in Brad’s video camera when he was shot.
It’s a sixteen-minute video with English subtitles, and beware, the last minute (from 15’30) is very difficult to watch. Click here to launch the Quicktime video (there’s a YouTube version without subtitles here).
There’s more footage at Mexican opposition blog Hoy PG, which points to a piece of unidentified news footage of Brad Will shortly after he was shot – not for the faint-hearted.
It’s a moot point whether these are human rights videos per se, but Brad’s tape in particular ends so shockingly, and depicts with such brutal suddenness the risks run by those determined to bring human rights stories to light, that it demands to be seen. But as one of the blogs David Sasaki quotes had it, there’s a balance to be struck between outrage at the killing of Brad Will, and at the mounting number of local deaths and injuries.