QAHIRAH, EGYPT – Human Rights Watch on Sunday condemned the deaths of more than 70 people in violence that erupted at protests in Egypt, accusing authorities of a “criminal disregard for people’s lives.”
At least 72 people were killed in Cairo alone at a rally of supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on Saturday morning, according to the Health Ministry. Another nine were killed Friday during protests in Alexandria.
Protesters accused security forces of opening fire with live ammunition, but the Interior Ministry said only tear gas had been used.
New York-based HRW said many of those killed in Cairo were shot in the head or chest, and that medical staffers interviewed by their researchers “judged some of the deaths to be targeted because of the position of the shots.”
The protests followed a call by army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the coup that ousted Morsi, for rallies to support a crackdown on “terrorism.”
The deaths suggested “a shocking willingness by the police and by certain politicians to ratchet up violence against pro-Morsi protesters,” said HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, Nadim Houry. “It is almost impossible to imagine that so many killings would take place without an intention to kill, or at least a criminal disregard for people’s lives.”
Morsi, an Islamist from the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted from the presidency on July 3 by the military after massive demonstrations against his rule. The deaths in Cairo on Saturday were the bloodiest incident since his ouster, and raised new fears about the country’s transition.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose country contributes hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic assistance to Egypt, expressed Washington’s “deep concern” about the bloodshed and called on the authorities to “respect the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.”