Egyptian of­fi­cer con­victed in ac­tivist’s shoot­ing death

The young woman was killed while walk­ing to lay flow­ers in Tahrir Square.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Laura King laura.king@la­times.com Twit­ter: @lau­rak­ingLAT

CAIRO — Over the last two years, hun­dreds of pro­test­ers have died at the hands of Egypt’s se­cu­rity forces. But from the be­gin­ning, Shaimaa Sab­bagh’s case was dif­fer­ent.

She was a young mother. A poet. The cir­cum­stances of her death were poignant: Nearly five months ago, she and a small group of ac­tivist col­leagues were on their way to lay flow­ers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in trib­ute to slain “Arab Spring” pro­test­ers when, those with her tes­ti­fied, po­lice opened fire with­out warn­ing.

And in an age of so­cial me­dia, her dy­ing mo­ments in the arms of an­other ac­tivist, cap­tured in graphic video images and still pho­tos, ric­o­cheted around the In­ter­net, shock­ing even Egyp­tians who had be­come in­ured to the spec­ta­cle of blood­shed in the streets.

On Thurs­day, in a rare such con­vic­tion, an Egyptian court found a po­lice of­fi­cer guilty in Sab­bagh’s death and sen­tenced him to 15 years in pri­son. The ver­dict against the 24-year-old po­lice lieu­tenant, Yassin Hatem Sala­hedeen, can be ap­pealed.

Sab­bagh was killed by a vol­ley of bird­shot, com­monly used by Egyptian se­cu­rity forces as a means of crowd con­trol that oc­ca­sion­ally turns lethal. In the video, Sab­bagh, 32, can be seen col­laps­ing, bleed­ing from the neck and back. Po­lice at first de­nied in­volve­ment, but au­dio from the scene cap­tured the sound of a com­mand to fire.

Out­rage over the case was stoked when a spokesman for the med­i­cal ex­am­iner said the blast of bird­shot was fa­tal be­cause of Sab­bagh’s slen­der build, cit­ing her lack of body fat for the fact that the pel­lets pen­e­trated her heart. The state­ment was later re­tracted.

Au­thor­i­ties also pur­sued a court case against 17 peo­ple who were present, ac­cus­ing them of car­ry­ing out an il­le­gal protest, although some de­scribed them­selves as passersby. Egypt’s gov­ern­ment crim­i­nal­ized unau­tho­rized demon­stra­tions af­ter an out­break of street protests that fol­lowed the mil­i­tary’s 2013 ouster of Mo­hamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected pres­i­dent.

The 17 were ac­quit­ted last month, but the pros­e­cu­tor has ap­pealed that ver­dict.

Sab­bagh’s case was highly un­usual in that it came un­der of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion at all. That in­ves­ti­ga­tion came on the per­sonal or­ders of Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah Sisi in re­sponse to the out­cry over the death. Rights groups say se­cu­rity forces have killed hun­dreds of other un­armed pro­test­ers with no legal reper­cus­sions.

The of­fi­cer ac­cused of fir­ing the fa­tal vol­ley told the court that his weapon was not loaded and that there was no in­ten­tion to in­jure any­one, the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

Sab­bagh’s death came on the eve of the fourth an­niver­sary of the Jan. 25 mass protest move­ment that drove long­time au­to­cratic Pres­i­dent Hosni Mubarak from of­fice.

About 900 demon­stra­tors were killed as au­thor­i­ties sought to quell the 2011 up­ris­ing, but nearly all the po­lice of­fi­cers in­volved in those deaths have been ac­quit­ted.

Mubarak was cleared last year of charges in con­nec­tion with the pro­test­ers’ deaths in the wan­ing days of his rule, but the pros­e­cu­tor sought and won a new trial for the 87-year-old leader.

Emad el-Ge­baly AFP/Getty Images

SHAIMAA SAB­BAGH is aided af­ter be­ing shot on a Cairo street in Jan­uary on the eve of the an­niver­sary of the up­ris­ing against Hosni Mubarak. In a rare con­vic­tion in Egypt, a po­lice of­fi­cer was sen­tenced to pri­son.

Has­san Am­mar As­so­ci­ated Press

A WOMAN holds a f lower in Cairo dur­ing a protest in Jan­uary of the death of Shaimaa Sab­bagh.

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