High hopes of 2011 replaced by self-searching as Middle East and North Africa reel from conflicts’ devastating effects.
Egypt’s state prosecutor has referred a police officer to trial for allegedly shooting to death a leftist female protester during a peaceful rally in central Cairo.
The police officer, who was not named by the prosecution on Tuesday, will stand trial before a criminal court.
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 to death 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.
Hisham Barakat, the chief prosecutor, said in a statement that the investigation revealed Sabbagh died from birdshot fired towards her and other protesters by an officer ordered to disperse the protest. The ammunition can be lethal at close quarters.
Barakat charged the police officer with involuntary manslaughter, punishable by up to seven years. No trial date has been set.
Police had denied involvement in Sabbagh’s death, suggesting that the birdshot that perforated her chest was not police-issued.
Barakat also referred protesters who had participated in the January 25 march to trial for violating a law that bans all but police-sanctioned demonstrations.
Sabbagh’s Socialist Popular Alliance, a small leftist party, was among the groups that opposed deposed President Mohamed Morsi’s year in power before turning against his successor, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, over a heavy-handed crackdown.
Mohammed Abdel-Aziz, Sabbagh’s family lawyer, said authorities had denied him access to the investigation or the right to attend the interrogations.
It is the first time a policeman has been referred to trial for allegedly killing someone during a protest since the military’s removal of Morsi in 2013, a rights researcher told AFP news agency.
“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.
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.
Police have been accused of killing hundreds of mostly Muslim Brotherhood sysmpathisers since Morsi’s overthrow, including about 700 in one day in August 2013 when police dispersed a Cairo protest camp.
About 10 policemen also died in those clashes.
Other police cases
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 vehicle, 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.
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, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter, received little attention.
Dozens of policemen were tried for protester deaths after the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, which had been partly prompted 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.