Egypt’s Revolution Revisited: Who Killed General Batran?

The late Major General Mohamed Batran was the head of the prison investigations department, a senior security position in which he was responsible for all Egyptian prisons. He was known to be serious, upright, and competent, and his death in the early days of the revolution was a mysterious crime, almost a puzzle. After the revolution broke out on January 25th, the Interior Ministry, led by Habib el-Adli, committed horrendous crimes in its attempt to quell the uprising, even using professional snipers to kill unarmed protesters; raising the casualty toll to almost 1,000 dead and 1,400 people who lost eyes to rubber bullets. Thousands of people are still missing, presumably detained in unknown places or killed and buried out of sight.

On January 27th, the Mubarak regime took a heinous criminal step to put an end to the Egyptian revolution: in order to punish and terrorize Egyptians and deter them from demonstrating, Adli and his aides opened up the prisons in Egypt and released the criminals. The prison officers provoked the prisoners to mutiny, then opened fire on them and opened the prison gates; in that way, the officers received protection, for they could say under questioning that they resisted the prisoners, but in the end could not stop them escaping. According to a report in the newspaper El Shorouk, Adli insisted that the plan to free the prisoners be carried out and asked his senior officers to send any officers who failed to carry out orders to court martial, or to kill them if necessary. Since General Batran was the top official in the Egyptian prison service, it would have been impossible to let the prisoners escape unless either he agreed or was removed from the scene.

Batran’s sister Manal asserts that General Batran knew of Adli’s plan to release the prisoners and at first refused to carry it out. On the evening of January 27th, Batran heard that a riot had broken out in Fayoum prison, so he headed there at once and managed to get the prisoners under control. He did not leave until he was sure they were all back in their cells under lock and key. General Batran foiled Adli’s plan, and throughout January 27th and 28th, no prisons were released thanks to General Batran’s vigilance and devotion to duty. Adli and his followers realized that Batran’s presence would prevent them carrying out their plan. On the morning of the January 28th, General Batran called his sister and told her, word for word: “Habib el-Adli wants to set the whole country on fire.”

At six o’clock in the evening, General Batran was told there was another mutiny in the Qata prison in Qalioubia Province north of Cairo, so he headed there at once. But while he was on his way, a senior Interior Ministry official advised him to go home, saying the officers there could handle the trouble. General Batran, knowing that in his absence the prisoners would be allowed to escape, insisted on doing his duty. He hurried to Qata prison to find the prisoners in uproar because one of the prison officers had opened fire at a prisoner and killed him. General Batran was enraged and shouted at the officer: “How could you kill an unarmed prisoner? I’ll have you court-martialled and I’ll be the judge!”

General Batran gave strict orders to the guards in all the sentry posts around the prison not to open fire under any circumstances, then he bravely went in to meet the prisoners unarmed, as specified in prison regulations. Batran managed to calm the prisoners down and persuade them to go back to their cells. When Adli’s followers realized that their plan would fail again, the officer who had killed the prisoner merely gave a signal to one of his colleagues in one of the sentry towers, telling him to open fire. He fired two shots at General Batran, who was killed instantly. With the murder of Batran, the major obstacle to Adli’s plan was overcome: Egyptian prisons were thrown open and 24,000 criminals were allowed to escape. General Batran’s sister has accused two of the officers working at the Qata prison of killing her brother. She has identified them by name in reports submitted to the public prosecutor and has backed up the accusation with videotaped testimony from several prisoners, that I have seen myself and that has also been submitted to the public prosecutor. So the case is clear, even if the circumstances of the investigation into it are mysterious and obscure.

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In an official statement, the Interior Ministry said that General Mohamed Batran, the head of the Fayoum prison investigations department, was killed by escaping prisoners, whereas he was in fact the head of the prison investigations department for the whole country and was killed at Qata prison, not in Fayoum. This erroneous information misled public opinion, and for a long period distracted attention away from the scene of the incident and helped the suspects hide incriminating evidence against themselves.

Three months after the murder of General Batran, the Interior Ministry has yet to initiate an inquiry into the killing. I do not believe that any Interior Ministry in the world, when a senior officer is killed on duty, would refrain from starting an inquiry to find out the cause. This raises the question: has the current minister, Mansour el-Eissawi, heard of the killing of General Batran and why hasn’t he opened an inquiry into the crime?

A strange dispute has started between the public prosecutor’s office and the Interior Ministry over the killing of General Batran. The general’s family has asked the prosecutor’s office to go to Qata prison to examine the crime scene and listen to the testimony of the prisoners in situ, but the prosecutor’s office has declined to send anyone on the grounds that the Interior Ministry says the security situation in Qata prison makes an inspection impossible. We may well wonder how the prosecutor’s office could investigate a complex crime such as the killing of General Batran without inspecting the crime scene. Another question arises: if the security situation in the prison is tense, would it not be possible to call in some military police to protect the investigators so that they can do their job properly?

The general’s family submitted a report to the prosecutor’s office accusing by name two officers at Qata prison of taking part in the killing of General Mohamed Batran. But instead of filing charges against the two officers, the prosecutors summoned them as witnesses to the incident. This is strange and inexplicable behavior on the part of the prosecution.

The prosecutor’s office asked for the police findings on the crime from the very department where the two suspected officers work. I fail to understand how the prosecution did not realize that the two suspected officers would use their influence to make sure that a distorted report would be submitted. Did they, for example, expect the officers to submit findings that would incriminated themselves for murder?

The prosecution asked the Interior Ministry to listen to the testimony of the prisoners who appear on the videotape and assert that General Batran was killed by the two suspected officers, but in reply the Interior Ministry sent the prosecution a letter saying that their testimony was not valid because their names do not appear in their full legal form. A few days later, unidentified people set fire to the headquarters of the prison department, completely destroying the prisoners’ testimony.

General Batran’s family submitted a new report in which they ask for the Interior Ministry to be excluded from gathering evidence in the case since the suspects are police officers, which undermines the impartiality of the Interior Ministry. The general’s family also asked that the military police carry out the investigation, but before the public prosecutor responded to this request, the Interior Ministry announced the same day that a mutiny had broken out in Qata prison and the prisoners there would have to be redistributed between various other prisons. That way the last evidence incriminating the killers will be lost, and Batran’s family will never see justice.

One does not need great intelligence to see that there is some hidden force in the Interior Ministry trying to protect those suspected of killing General Batran. At this point we should remember that most of Habib el-Adli’s aides and loyal followers are still in their jobs, and we cannot expect them to help incriminate themselves.

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As much as it offers a noble example of a great man doing his duty to the end and sacrificing his life for the sake of his country’s security, the murder of general Batran also clearly reflects the perverse circumstances Egypt is now going through. After the revolution overthrew the president, his family and his top aides, for some incomprehensible reason the foundations of the regime have remained untouched. The heads of the universities and other state institutions, who cooperated with State Security and were always singing the praises of Mubarak and his wife, are still there. Most of the media leaders who cooperated with State Security, misled the Egyptian people to please the tyrant, and incited attacks on those taking part in the revolution, are still serving. Even the State Security officers who abused and tortured Egyptians for decades have largely been transferred to the new National Security Agency. The police chiefs on trial for killing demonstrators are still at their posts and some have been promoted. What would one expect from the followers of the old regime when we leave them in their jobs? Would one expect them to help carry out the demands of the revolution and complete the changes that would lead to their dismissal and imprisonment? The logical expectation is what is happening now. Those who let 24,000 prisoners escape must have kept their contact details so that they could send them on the kind of sabotage missions that the country now sees daily. The police look on as Egyptian blood is shed and then, after every massacre, Interior Minister Eissawi comes out to assure us that security will improve … in a few months.

Of course the followers of the old regime will unite to conspire against the revolution and push the country into escalating chaos, which would enable them to evade responsibility for their crimes. No revolution can achieve its objectives without a complete purge of all the corrupt elements that are still loyal to the old regime. We ask the armed forces, which protected the revolution and took the side of the people, to open an impartial and detailed investigation into the killing of General Mohamed Batran. I am confident that such an investigation would reveal some amazing surprises, because the hands that killed Batran and are now shielding the killers from justice are the same hands that are plotting against the country, committing acts of sabotage, and creating chaos in order to obstruct change.

But Egypt’s splendid future has begun, and no one can ever take the country back to the dark.

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