A railway official who allegedly forced two men to jump off a moving train in Egypt has been charged with manslaughter and will be tried before an emergency criminal court, the country’s chief prosecutor said.
One of the two men slipped as he jumped and was crushed under the wheels while the other suffered serious injuries. The official allegedly forced the men off the train last week because they were unable to pay the fare.
Late on Saturday, the prosecutor identified the railway official as Magdy Ibrahim Hamam, saying he was in charge of the 934 service travelling last week between the Mediterranean city of Alexandria and the ancient southern city of Luxor.
Mohammed Eid, 23, and Ahmed Sameer Ahmed, 25, were given three choices by Mr Hamam: pay the fare, be placed in police custody at the next station or jump off the train, the statement said, echoing video clips of witness statements posted online.
Mr Hamam then opened the door of the carriage and asked the two Cairo residents to jump off. Ahmed leapt first while the train was travelling at 25 kilometres an hour and survived with severe injuries.
Eid jumped from the speeding train 86 metres later, slipping and falling under the wheels. His head was instantly severed by the wheels of the train, which was moving at 30kph, according to a medical report issued by the coroner’s office in Tanta, a city north of Cairo near where the incident happened.
Mr Hamam knew that the two men would suffer injuries if they jumped off the train, the prosecutor said, but his actions did not amount to murder. Mr Hamam “deviated from his duties and abandoned the option of surrendering the two to the police at the nearest station”.
Hundreds of people have died in horrific train accidents in Egypt over the last two decades, including in fires, derailment caused by speeding or mishaps in the signalling system and, in an accident in March this year, an explosion of a driverless, fuel-laden engine that smashed into a wall at Cairo’s bustling railway station, killing 22.
If convicted, Mr Hamam could face up to seven years in prison. A date for the trial has not been set.
Eid’s gruesome death and the cruelty allegedly shown by Mr Hamam touched a nerve in a country where many are burdened by economic hardship, growing poverty and a lack of adequate and efficient public services.
Many people on social media asked themselves if widespread poor economic conditions have negatively affected their readiness to help someone in need. One question that featured repeatedly on social media was why passengers who witnessed the standoff between Mr Hamam and the two passengers did not offer to pay the fare to defuse the situation.
The government of President Abdel Fatah El Sisi has embarked on a drive to reform the economy and improve services. The reforms included lifting subsidies on basic goods and services and devaluing the local currency, measures that led to steep price rises. The railway service, established in 1865, is undergoing a multibillion-dollar upgrade that includes buying new trains, engine cars, building bridges for vehicles and pedestrians to replace the often-deadly street-level crossings and computerising the signals system.
Authorities are seeking to recoup the heavy investment by increasing fares and adopting a zero-tolerance policy for fare dodgers, something that many believe Mr Hamam had taken far too seriously when dealing with Eid and Ahmed, who were reportedly selling handmade knick-knacks on the train.
“The prosecution urges [authorities] not to allow anyone without a ticket or a permit to board trains,” the prosecutor said.