Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

‘One step forward’

A second police officer has been convicted for shooting peaceful protesters. Ahmed Morsy reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On 11 June a Cairo criminal court sentenced Lieutenant Yassin Salah Eddin to 15 years in a maximum security prison after he was found guilty of the manslaughter of activist Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh. The verdict is not final and can be appealed.

Al-Sabbagh was killed on 24 January when members of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party gathered in Talaat Harb Square to mark the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. They had intended to walk to Tahrir Square and lay floral tributes in memory of demonstrators killed during the 18-day uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak. Before they could begin the short walk, however, security forces forcibly dispersed the small gathering and Al-Sabbagh was shot.

The killing of the 32-year-old political activist sparked a domestic and international outcry. In March the prosecutor general identified a police officer from Central Security Forces as the prime suspect in the killing. A few days later, on 17 March, Salah Eddin was referred to trial.

“The verdict is a step forward. It is the second time since 25 January 2011 that a police officer has been sentenced for shooting peaceful protesters,” Medhat Al-Zahed, acting president of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

In March 2013, First Lieutenant Mahmoud Al-Shinnawi — known as the “eye sniper” — was handed a three-year prison sentence after being found guilty of targeting protesters’ eyes during the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes in November 2011.

“We had requested higher ranking officials, including Salah Eddin’s commanding officer, who ordered him to fire, and former Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, be indicted in the case. The convicted was certainly not the only police officer responsible,” says Al-Zahed.

The Forensic Medicine Authority concluded that Al-Sabbagh’s death was a result of lacerations to the lungs and heart caused by birdshot fired at close range.

“Following the incident, Ibrahim said on several occasions that security forces handling the protest were not equipped with birdshot rifles. The same claim was repeated by the major general in charge of overseeing the dispersal. These lies constitute an attempt to subvert justice,” says Al-Zahed.

Al-Sabbagh’s legal team had petitioned to change the charge to premeditated murder but the request was denied by the court. Lawyers are still discussing whether or not to appeal the verdict in order to press for a harsher sentence against the police officer.

In a separate case, 17 witnesses to the incident were charged with taking part in a protest that had not been authorised by the Interior Ministry, an offence under the controversial 2013 protest law. Human rights lawyer Azza Soliman was among those charged. Soliman was lunching at a nearby restaurant and witnessed the dispersal of the gathering. When she went to the Prosecutor General’s office to offer a witness statement she was arrested.

On 23 May all 17 were acquitted. Though the court ruled that there was no evidence to support prosecution claims that the defendants had assaulted security forces, prosecutors have appealed the acquittal.

The 2013 protest law urgently needs to be repealed, says Al-Zahed. He points out that while the constitution clearly states prior notification is all that is required before a demonstration is held, the protest law requires permission to be granted by the Interior Minister.

“The other step needed to calm the political climate is the release of all prisoners of conscience. Differentiation must be made between them and prisoners jailed for terrorist crimes,” adds Al-Zahed.

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