CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court on Thursday convicted and sentenced a police officer to 15 years in prison over the killing of a female protester during a peaceful demonstration in Cairo in January — a slaying that shocked many Egyptians.
The Cairo Criminal Court ruled against 24-year-old police lieutenant Yassin Hatem Salah Eddin, charged with manslaughter over the death of 32-year-old activist Shaimaa el-Sabbagh. The ruling can be appealed.
The killing struck a nerve with many Egyptians and stoked anger over perceived brutality of the police. El-Sabbagh family members, lawyers and friends welcomed the verdict, many clapping in approval inside the court room on Thursday.
Video footage of the incident showed el-Sabbagh collapsing in a colleague’s arms with her head, chest and back soaked in blood after a masked policeman fired birdshot in her direction. A voice was heard in the videos, commanding: “Fire.”
Authorities initially denied that police had any involvement in her death. Lawyers had repeatedly demanded that the manslaughter charge be changed to premeditated murder.
Salah Eddin addressed the court before the verdict was handed down, denying responsibility for el-Sabbagh’s killing and saying he had no gunshots in his weapon.
“We had no gunshots. We were there for security, not to kill anyone,” he said. “This is our job.”
Rights lawyers and witnesses have said the police hampered efforts to save el-Sabbagh’s life by preventing an ambulance from passing through the cordon.
El-Sabbagh and a small group of demonstrators were marking the anniversary of the Jan. 25, 2011, uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. During the uprising, nearly 900 protesters were killed by police.
In subsequent trials, almost all of the over 100 policemen involved and charged with the killings were acquitted, with judges citing shoddy investigations or lax evidence in the cases, which were largely probed by the police themselves.
The uproar over el-Sabbagh’s death prompted Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to urge an investigation. He suggested at the time that individual mistakes should not undermine public confidence in the police.
Egypt’s interior minister was subsequently replaced in a Cabinet shuffle.
The verdict comes against a backdrop of a state-orchestrated campaign to silence dissent. An anti-protest law punishes demonstrations staged without police permits and courts dispense heavy sentences against both Islamists and secular-minded activists over charges mostly related to violence.
The campaign escalated following the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013 after mass demonstrations accusing him of abuse of power.
A lawyer representing the slain woman said the ruling was fair.
“The ruling achieves justice and retribution,” said the lawyer, Amir Salem. “The soul of Shaimaa will can now rest in peace.”
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