Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1316, (20 - 26 October 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Top notch defence for policeman

The police officer sentenced to 15 years for killing activist Shaimaa Sabbagh appeared at his retrial this week surrounded by top lawyers, reports Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

Anti-riot officer Yassin Salah, sentenced in June, 2015 to 15 years in prison for fatally shooting leftist activist Shaimaa Sabbagh three years ago, was in high spirits when he entered the courtroom on Saturday to attend the opening session of his retrial.

Dressed in civilian clothes beneath which a handgun was clearly visible, Salah was accompanied by a group of lawyers from Farid Al-Deeb’s office. Al-Deeb is best known for defending former president Hosni Mubarak and his interior minister Habib Al-Adli.

Requests to summon the prosecutor who investigated the Sabbagh’s case, the forensic doctor who examined her body and journalists who shot videos showing Sabbagh being shot were among the long list of demands presented by Salah’s lawyers.

Salah spent less than eight months in jail following his conviction. He was released in early February after the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial. The new trial has now been adjourned until 22 November in order to summon the witnesses requested by Salah’s lawyers.

Ali Suleiman, one of the lawyers hired by the Popular Socialist Alliance, the party to which Sabbagh belonged, is worried that the prison sentence against a police officer for killing a peaceful protester, hailed as “historic” by human rights groups, could now be reduced, or cancelled altogether.

Sabbagh, a single mother of a five-year-old child, hailed from Alexandria. She was in Cairo on 24 January, 2014 to mark the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. In Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo she joined a small number of Popular Socialist Alliance members who intended to lay wreaths to commemorate the over 800 “martyrs” who died during the 18-day revolution against Mubarak, a day ahead of the actual anniversary. She was fatally shot when police fired tear gas and pellets at the small gathering to force it to disperse.

Following Sabbagh’s killing the Interior Ministry denied police involvement and blamed the young woman’s death on “unknown elements” who had infiltrated the small protest. Ahmed Moussa, a television presenter known for his opposition to the 25 January Revolution, went one step further, claiming that one of Sabbagh’s Popular Socialist Alliance colleagues was behind her killing. He produced a photograph of a man covering his face and holding a gun during a demonstration as evidence. It quickly transpired, however, that the photograph was of a demonstration in Alexandria.

Following Sabbagh’s killing 17 Popular Socialist Alliance Party members were referred to trial for breaking the protest law. All were found not guilty.

“Of course we are worried about the possible outcome of the trial,” said Popular Socialist Alliance Acting President Medhat Al-Zahed. “The Interior Ministry is providing the defendant with strong support. He hasn’t even been suspended from work for the duration of the trial.

Zahed warned that in the absence of a “fair sentence” against the officer who shot Sabbagh “there can be no guarantees such crime won’t be repeated”. He also questioned why, after the prosecutor in the initial case had recommended that the soldier who prepared the pellet gun for Salah to shoot at Sabbagh and the commander of the anti-riot force in Talaat Harb Square both be charged with negligence, no further action had been taken.

In agreeing to order a new trial the Court of Cassation said the initial ruling did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Salah intended to kill Sabbagh. It is an argument her lawyer, Suleiman, rejects.

“When you hold your gun less than eight meters away from a protestor and start shooting at her there can be no other intention but to kill,” he says.

Meanwhile, a Cairo court has ordered the release of two activists who have been held in jail since 25 April for organising demonstrations opposing President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s decision to hand over control of two strategic Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

Hamdi Eshta, a member of the 6 April Movement, and Haitham Mohamedein, a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Group, were among the last defendants held in Cairo for taking part in anti-government protests following the decision to concede sovereignty over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir.

Local human rights groups say 1200 mostly young and women were arrested on 25 April for taking part in street protests. While the majority were released on bail nearly 400 were sent to trial.

Eshta and Mohamdein were in administrative detention awaiting trial. Other prominent opponents of the Tiran and Sanafir deal such as lawyer Malek Adli and journalists Amr Badr and Mahmoud Al-Saqqa were released in early September. Mokhtar Mounir, a human rights lawyer, says a number of cases remain open in Mansoura, Damietta and Sharqiya.

“I hope that all the outstanding charges will be dropped and these young men will be released. We have enough economic and political problems. The government should act wisely and reduce the level of tension,” said Mounir.

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