CAIRO, June 16- After five days’ of searching, Mahmoud Hemdan found his brother “beaten and tortured” at a Cairo police station before he was charged over a deadly football stadium stampede.
Ashraf Hemdan, 21, and his teenage nephew Ali are among 16 defendants on trial accused of sparking the crush in February that killed 19 people during a match in the Egyptian capital.
“Ashraf is innocent. He told me he was beaten and tortured with electric shocks to private parts of his body,” Hemdan told an AFP correspondent at his home in a village on Cairo’s outskirts.
Ali’s mother Nagat said she was shocked when she saw her 14 year old son in jail.
“I couldn’t hug him — his body was covered in bruises and marks from electric shocks.”
The defence says others facing trial were also tortured to extract confessions, in a country that has faced widespread accusations of police and judicial abuses.
Rights groups say the stampede occurred when police fired tear gas at crowds of fans trying to force their way into the stadium through a narrow turnstile. Video footage appears to support their claim.
The game between the Zamalek and Enppi clubs was one of the first open to the public since a similar incident killed 74 people in 2012 at Port Said in Egypt’s deadliest sports-related riots.
Prosecutors say the accused are members of the Ultras White Knights — hardcore Zamalek supporters — and had received money from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to spark the rioting and spread chaos.
The Brotherhood, a major political force for decades, has been targeted in a brutal crackdown since July 2013 when the army overthrew the country’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters have been killed in street clashes with police, and thousands are languishing in jails. Dozens have been sentenced to death after speedy mass trials.
– ‘Settling political scores’ –
Mohamed, a senior member of the Ultras who only gave his first name, said the entire case was aimed at “settling political scores”.
“The organisers of that match, the police who fired the tear gas and Mourtada Mansour should be the ones to be punished,” Mohamed said, referring to Zamalek’s chairman.
In May a court dissolved hardcore football supporters’ clubs known as ultras in a case filed by Mansour.
At the time he told AFP that “ultras are a criminal phenomenon that should be eradicated”, and blamed them for frequent violence at Egyptian football matches.
Ultras, who are openly hostile towards the police, were at the forefront of the 2011 revolt against ex president Hosni Mubarak.
That uprising was primarily against widespread police abuses during his decades of rule.
Amnesty International slammed the security forces for causing the stampede, while Human Rights Watch pointed out that not a single police officer was charged in the case.
Police dispersed fans using “excessive force with reckless disregard for the consequences and with fatal results,” said Amnesty.
Thirteen of the accused are in custody and “all were tortured to extract confessions,” said lawyer Mounir Mokhtar, who is defending some of them.
Confessions of defendants like Ashraf were even broadcast on television.
Yasser Othman, an accused in the case, said he had been forced into confessing.
“I was hung from my arms and given electric shocks several times. They even threatened to rape my wife,” Othman was seen telling the judge in a video posted online.
Prosecutors declined to comment on the allegations, while the police denied them.
“We didn’t beat them nor did we torture them They confessed when we confronted them with what they did,” a police officer involved in the case told AFP.
“They could have denied their confessions in front of the prosecution, but they didn’t.”
Relatives of Ashraf and Ali denied the two had any links to the ultras or the Brotherhood, insisting they were victims of police brutality.
“My brother is a scapegoat. He made a false confession only to avoid being tortured again,” said Hemdan.
Ali’s mother said they were targeted because of their weak social status.
“They took my son and the other boys knowing that we are simple people living in the countryside,” said Nagat.
“They must have felt that these are farmers and their voices would not be heard.”