By Mick Krever, CNN
Egyptian security forces systematically fired on largely peaceful Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators during the worst spate of violence in the aftermath of President Mohamed Morsy’s removal from power, Human Rights Watch said in a damning new report this week.
“The broad accounts that we received largely corroborated each other, and told a story not of a careful effort to deal with the specific threat of violence, but rather a broad effort to simply mow down demonstrators,” Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth told CNN’s Hala Gorani, in for Christiane Amanpour, on Wednesday.
His organization says the killings of more than 800 people at Raba’a Square last August likely amount to crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch calls it a premeditated attack equal to, or worse than, China’s Tiananmen Square killings.
“The government’s line is that this was going to be a gradual dispersion of the tens of thousands of demonstrators in that sit-in; that they would give warnings, that there would be safe exits,”
“In fact, none of that happened. Within minutes there were basically bulldozers and armored personnel carriers plowing into the square, and the use of lethal force started right at the outset.”
Roth conceded that while some of the protestors did use violence, including molotov cocktails, and eight police officers were killed, “there was no real effort” by the police to single out those who were responsible for the violence.
“Instead, snipers were shooting indiscriminately into the crowd. At one point they were killing anybody who tried to enter the hospital. Other soldiers were, you know, simply firing willy nilly into the demonstrators.”
“This was a massive use of force designed to crush the Muslim Brotherhood movement, not a narrow effort to deal with the threat of violence.”
The Egyptian government says the report is a sham based on shoddy investigation. They barred Roth from entering Egypt on his most recent trip – the first time, he said, Human Rights Watch has been prevented from entering the country.
“I thought it was interesting – somewhat rich – that they would, you know, say it’s okay to kill eight-hundred-and-seventeen demonstrators but it was illegal to investigate the massacre.”
The report, he said, was “very carefully documented,” and including interviews with 200 witnesses, including bystanders opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, and visits to local hospitals and morgues.
“This is actually the darkest moment that I remember in Egypt. And it’s not only the massive use of violence against demonstrators.”
“There have been some twenty-two thousand Muslim Brotherhood alleged supporters who are now in prison. There are these mass trials with mass death sentences. NGOs are being attacked; human rights groups are being shut down.”
“This is a very dark moment in Egypt’s history. But, you know, nonetheless U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry keeps talking about this progress towards democracy, which only he somehow sees.”