Shaimaa El-Sabbagh collapses as she was shot during a March by the party in Cairo Jan 24, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)
An Egyptian court ordered in remand a police officer charged with killing leftist activist Shaimaa El-Sabagh during a peaceful protest, adjourning the trial to 14 May after the first session was held on Sunday.
The January killing caused local and international outrage and put a spotlight on police abuse.
The general prosecution had charged the policeman with shooting protesters with birdshot to intentionally hurt them. The defendant did not have the intention of "murder", however, the prosecution said. The shooting led to El-Sabagh's death.
El-Sabagh, a leading member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP), was shot while marching with a few dozen other party members to Tahrir Square to commemorate the fourth anniversary of January 25 revolution.
Rights groups harshly criticised the incident which they deemed representative of the excessive use of force by the police in dealing with peaceful protesters.
Addressing the criticism at the time, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi called El-Sabagh a “daughter” and insisted the perpetrator be held to account if found guilty.
Some 17 members of the party, witnesses to the killing, are standing trial on charges of participating in the same unauthorised protest with the slain activist.
Egypt's protest law, issued late-2013, stipulates protesters have to obtain police authorisation prior to demonstrations. Violators could face jail terms and heavy fines.
In the first session Sunday, the court, headed by Judge Mostafa Abdullah, examined pictures and videos filmed during the protest.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers requested including on the list of defendants a police field officer, the current interior minister and the former interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim, who was in charge when the killing occurred.
A witness in the case, who also faces charges of illegal protesting, said that turning witnesses into defendants shows that authorities are not sincere about prosecuting the killer.
“If it was not for the media pressure and the public fuss over the incident, there wouldn’t have been a case,” Mohamed El-Sherif said.
El-Sherif himself was injured during the protest with birdshot to the head and shoulder.
Another witness, Khaled Hawas, criticised the charge sheet that did not include murder charges, and which might lead to a lighter sentence.
Over recent months, several police members were referred to trial for abuse, torture and killing of civilians in different instances, including in detention facilities.
In April, the general prosecution referred two police officers to trial over charges of torturing a detainee to death in a police station in Cairo's low-income district of Matariya.
In a separate incident Friday, three policemen were detained over accusations of beating a prisoner to death.