This Article is From Mar 17, 2015

Egypt Policeman to Face Trial in Death of Woman Protester

Egypt Policeman to Face Trial in Death of Woman Protester

Representational Image.

Cairo, Egypt:

Egypt's state prosecutor referred today a police officer to trial for allegedly shooting to death a leftist female protester during a peaceful rally in central Cairo.

The death of Shaima al-Sabbagh, which was partly captured by a photographer, prompted President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to publicly demand that the perpetrator be brought to justice.

She was shot dead as police dispersed a small march of leftists on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the January 25 uprising.

The marchers had been carrying a wreath to a monument commemorating the deaths of protesters during the revolt that toppled president Hosni Mubarak.

The police officer, who was not named by the prosecution, will stand trial before a criminal court.

It is the first time a policeman has been referred to trial for allegedly killing someone during a protest since the military's overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, a rights researcher told AFP.

Police have been accused of killing hundreds of mostly Islamist protesters since Morsi's ouster, including about 700 in one day in August 2013 when police dispersed a Cairo protest camp.

About 10 policemen also died in those clashes.

A court had sentenced an officer to 10 years in prison for the deaths of 37 detainees arrested at a pro-Morsi protest who suffocated from tear gas inside a police truck, although an appeals court overturned that verdict.

Other policemen have been tried for the deaths of civilians, including an officer who shot dead a detainee in a police station.

"This is the first officer to be tried for killing a civilian in the context of a protest," said Karim Ennarah, a police and criminal justice researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Sabbagh's death, a day after another female protester was shot dead during a protest in Alexandria, was swiftly condemned by the government.

But the killing of the other female protester, an Islamist, received little attention.

Sabbagh's Socialist Popular Alliance, a small leftist party, was among the groups that opposed Morsi's divisive year in power before turning against his successor Sisi over a heavy-handed crackdown.

'Weak charges'

The prosecutor said in a statement that an investigation had found that the officer shot dead Sabbagh with birdshot, which police often use in crowd control.

The ammunition can be lethal at close quarters.

Police had denied involvement in Sabbagh's death, suggesting that the birdshot that perforated her chest was not police-issued.

The prosecutor also referred protesters who had participated in the march to trial for violating a law that bans all but police-sanctioned demonstrations.

The charges against the police officer do not include murder or manslaughter. He is instead charged with "battery that led to death" and "deliberately" wounding other protesters.

Ennarah criticised the charges, which he said were "weak".

"When the prosecution can't get away from pressing charges (against policemen), when the abuse is very flagrant and well documented, they press weak charges," Ennarah said.

Dozens of policemen were tried for protester deaths after the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, which had been partly fuelled by police abuses.

Most have been acquitted, including the former police chief and other commanders who stood trial with Mubarak.

The charges against Mubarak himself were dismissed by the court.