The young Google executive detained for 12 days for protesting against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak says he was behind the Facebook page that helped spark what he called “the revolution of the youth of the internet”.
A US-based human rights group said on Monday nearly 300 people have died in two weeks of clashes.
Wael Ghonim, a marketing manager for the internet company, sobbed throughout an emotional television interview just hours after he was freed. He insisted he had not been tortured and said his interrogators treated him with respect.
“This is the revolution of the youth of the internet and now the revolution of all Egyptians,” he said, adding that he was taken aback when the security forces holding him branded him a traitor. “Anyone with good intentions is the traitor because being evil is the norm,” he said. “If I was a traitor, I would have stayed in my villa in the Emirates and made good money and said like others, let this country go to hell. But we are not traitors,” added Ghonim, an Egyptian who oversees Google’s marketing in the Middle East and Africa from Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates.
The protesters have already brought the most sweeping changes since Mubarak took power 30 years ago, but they are keeping up the pressure in hopes of achieving their ultimate goal of ousting Mubarak.
Ghonim has become a hero of the demonstrators since he went missing on January 27, two days after the protests began. He confirmed reports by protesters that he was the administrator of the Facebook Page named “We are all Khaled Said”, which was one of the main tools for organising the demonstration that started the movement on January 25.
Khaled Said was a 28-year-old businessman who died in June at the hands of undercover police, setting off months of protests against the hated police. The police have also been blamed for inflaming violence by trying to suppress these anti-government demonstrations by force.
Ghonim’s whereabouts were not known until Sunday, when a prominent Egyptian political figure confirmed he was under arrest and would soon be released.
He looked exhausted and said he had been unable to sleep for 48 hours, but not because he was being mistreated.
A least 297 killed: Human Rights Watch
US-based Human Rights Watch told The Associated Press on Monday that two weeks of clashes have claimed at least 297 lives, by far the highest and most detailed toll released so far. It was based on visits to seven hospitals in three cities. The group said it was likely to rise.
While there was no exact breakdown of how many of the dead police or protesters, “clearly, a significant number of these deaths are a result of the use of excessive and unlawful use of force by the police”, said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch.
Egypt’s Health Ministry has not given a comprehensive death toll, though a ministry official said he is trying to compile one.
Protesters have clashed with police who fired live rounds, tear gas and rubber bullets. They also fought pitched street battles for two days with gangs of pro-Mubarak supporters who attacked their main demonstration site in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square.
The violence has spread to other parts of Egypt and the toll includes at least 65 deaths outside the capital Cairo.
Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that she and other researchers visited five hospitals in Cairo, a field hospital in Tahrir Square, and one hospital each in the cities of Alexandria and Suez.
The count is based on interviews with hospital doctors, visits to emergency rooms and morgue inspections, she said.
Morayef said a majority of victims were killed by live fire, but that some of the deaths were caused by tear gas canisters and rubber bullets fired at close range.
“We personally witnessed riot police firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at the heads of protesters at close range, and that is a potentially lethal use of such riot-control agents,” said Bouckaert.
In most cases, doctors declined to release names of the dead, Morayef said.
The group counted 232 deaths in Cairo, including 217 who were killed through Jan. 30 and an additional 15 who were killed in clashes between government supporters and opponents in Tahrir Square last Wednesday and Thursday.
In addition, 52 dead were reported in Alexandria and 13 in Suez, Morayef said.