Introduction: Lest we forget the victims and survivors
“Glory to those who are not known!” .. a saying that resonated widely among the citizens during the various demonstrations and protests after the Egyptian revolution, addressing the audience on the sidewalks where tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered, leaving some bystanders wondering: who are the “unknown”? Are they those who were lost in the events of the revolution and were not identified, or those who were imprisoned for months or years with no highlight of their suffering, or are they people who disappeared under nonspecific circumstances.. Despite the diverse meaning of those “unknown” it is probably linked to those in events and incidents, the address of which was monopolized by the state.. i.e it is the unsaid story.. the unknown story.. the narrative that tries to represent the voices of the marginalized and oppressed, while the state uses the tools of the law and the media, to impose its own narrative on what happened during the years of the revolution and after.
The authorities tried to blur the features of that bloody summer of 2013, where it seemed that the victims despite their huge numbers, and the incidents and their excessive violence did not qualify as important issues to be discussed by the public. The most important thing was “the victory of the military institution over the enemies of the homeland”. The Abu Zaabal prisoner transfer vehicle incident was one of those episodes that the ruling authority wanted to conceal with obscurity and vagueness, so that it does not appear as a crime committed by this authority against helpless imprisoned civilians. The rationale in the summer of 2013 was that the army and police forces are facing armed demonstrations and protests. How could this description apply to defendants in the custody of security forces and inside one of its prisons? Even if this appears to some to be a crime, their voices will remain besieged, and the accounts of the incident will remain absent.
The Abu Za’abal prison transfer incident took place on August 18, 2013, between 6 am and 3 pm, where 37 out of 45 people who were deported to Abu Zaabal prison in the prison van were killed. The defendants were deported after being arrested for participating in the Raba’a sit-in, which was dispersed by security forces using excessive violence four days before the Abu Zaabal incident. The incident occurred at the peak of the use of excessive violence against civilians in the protests following the impeachment of former President Mohamed Morsi. Only 8 people survived. The rest of the deportees died of suffocation, but the cause of death remained controversial. Did they suffocate as a result of the gas bomb thrown into the van after repeated pleas to open the door for ventilation? Or did they suffocate due to overcrowding in a vehicle not meant to accommodate more than 25 individuals in view of the available ventilation potential and vehicle space. The controversy also extended to the legal definition of the murder, was it manslaughter or deliberate murder?
However, this report mainly attempts to break the wall of silence imposed by the Authority, and to recall what happened, drawing on the accounts of survivors and the victims’ families, in one of the scenes of violation of the right to life. The report presents alternative narratives, through its documented material, in an effort to enhance the ability of individuals and society to learn the truth about facts and events that were associated with the period of political and social change since 2011.
The lawsuit of the Abu Za’abal incident has not yet been resolved. Lieutenant Colonel Amr Farouq, Deputy Commander of Heliopolis police station, Capt. Ibrahim El Morsi, Lieutenant Islam Helmy and Lieutenant Mohamed Yahya were referred to trial, accused of manslaughter. After the Khanka Misdemeanor Court, then the appeal court, the Khanka appeal court sentenced the first defendant to five years, and the second, third and fourth defendants to a one year suspended sentence. The case is still pending in the Court of Cassation.
The first attempt by this report to recall the details of the Abu Zaabal deportation vehicle incident remains an opportunity for those interested, whether individuals or groups, to do more to investigate the truth and to search for new details that we have not yet reached. AFTE believes that its work on the Conscience and Memory project needs the support and help of individuals and others, in the hope that such crimes are not repeated in the future.