Egypt prosecution charges officer in death of Shaimaa El-Sabagh

Reem Gehad , Tuesday 17 Mar 2015

The prosecution also referred members of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, who organised the march, to criminal court for violating the protest law

Shaimaa El-Sabbagh
In this Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 photo, 32-year-old mother Shaimaa el-Sabbagh holds a poster during a protest in downtown Cairo (Photo: AP)

Egypt's prosecutor-general has referred a police officer to criminal court over the killing of leftist activist Shaimaa El-Sabagh at a peaceful march in January, according a statement released by his office on Tuesday.

It also referred members of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, who organised the march, to criminal court for violating the 2013 protest law which outlaws unauthorised demonstrations.

The prosecution said investigations revealed El-Sabagh died from wounds sustained from "light birdshot" that a Central Security Forces officer shot at her and other protesters in downtown Cairo on 24 January 2015.

"This caused the injury that led to her death and injured other protesters," it said.

The prosecution charged the officer with the crime of  "beating that led to death."

Wael Tawfik, a member of the party's central committee, told Ahram Online that referring the officer to criminal court was a "good step" towards justice, especially after prosecution had initially detained leading party member Zohdi El-Shamy on suspicion of killing El-Sabagh.

However, he criticised the decision to put party members on trial for allegedly staging an unauthorised protest, as he said that the group were carrying flowers to the Martyrs' Memorial in Tahrir Square to commemorate those who fell during the January 2011 uprisings, but did not plan a demonstration.

Aly Soliman, a lawyer and member of the Socialist Popular Alliance, described the prosecutor-general's decision as "vague".

He said that the prosecution's charges against the officer, "beating that led to death", is a type of murder under Egyptian law.

The lawyer explained that there are different types of murder under Egyptian law, including premeditated murder, involuntary manslaughter, and "darb afda ela mout", which literally translates to "beating that led to death".

Article 236 of Egypt's penal code stipulates that, "Anyone who injures or beats a person, or supplies them with substances that harm them, without an intent to kill them, and [these actions] lead to death, is punished by ... three to seven years in prison. And if this action was premeditated the punishment would be harsher."

Soliman suggested that the "light birdshot", cited by the prosecution as a cause for Shaimaa's death, could be interpreted as a tool that the officer used to inflict injury on her, and which unintentionally caused her death.

El-Sabagh's death caused a local and international outcry, with many criticising the security forces for using excessive force in dispersing the peaceful march.

Her party, the Socialist Popular Alliance, accused the police of "premeditated murder", while police officials denied that security forces had a role in El-Sabagh’s death.

Shortly after her death, the Ministry of Religious Endowments refused to allow the party to reserve a hall in Omar Makram Mosque in downtown Cairo for El-Sabagh’s wake.

Prosecutors ordered a media gag on the case shortly after investigations started.

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi promised in a speech in February that whoever is responsible for her death would be held accountable, describing Shaimaa as "a daughter" to him.

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