An Egyptian prosecutor ordered Tuesday the trial of four police officers accused of killing 37 Muslim Brotherhood members during a prison transfer on August 18th. The Islamist detainees died as a result of asphyxiation and overcrowding when officers fired tear gas into the back of a police van transporting them to a prison outside Cairo. The Interior Ministry initially claimed the prisoners had died during an escape attempt, but investigators from the prosecutor’s office deemed the statement false. All accused officers were detained Tuesday for four days pending further investigations.
The move to prosecute police officers in criminal court is a rare indication of the Egyptian government’s willingness to hold security forces accountable for maltreatment of protesters. Approximately 2,000 members of the Brotherhood are currently detained in prison. Egyptian media frequent report on allegations of beatings and torture of those in detention. Egyptian police have been accused of using excessive force and torture against the Brotherhood since the army toppled Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Egypt’s former President Mohammed Morsi hold a rally in Cairo on July 3, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
Human rights groups have voiced concern over the abuse of Brotherhood detainees saying such actions are not aligned with the government’s democratic aspirations. International organizations have demanded accountability for the actions of security forces and greater scrutiny of the government’s overall dealings with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Egyptian military-run government has reacted angrily to international disapproval of the harsh crackdown on the Brotherhood, whose members they label as terrorists. Currently the government is prosecuting many leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood on charges including inciting violence and terrorism. According to prosecution officials and Brotherhood lawyers, more than a dozen cases are being put together, each with multiple defendants. Prosecutors plan to use the upcoming trial of former president Mohammed Morsi to prove that the Brotherhood leadership directs a campaign of violence. The state denies most accusations of maltreatment of prisoners and describes the Brotherhood as terrorists determined to destabilize the country.