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Egyptian Policeman Charged over Shooting of Protester

  • Reuters

FILE - Activist Shaimaa Sabbagh is shown collapsed on the ground after she was shot during a protest in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 24, 2015.

FILE - Activist Shaimaa Sabbagh is shown collapsed on the ground after she was shot during a protest in Cairo, Egypt, Jan. 24, 2015.

An Egyptian police officer was charged on Tuesday over the shooting of a young mother at a protest in central Cairo after a photograph of her bleeding to death that went viral caused an international outcry.

Shaimaa Sabbagh, 32, was shot at a march marking the anniversary of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The public prosecutor said in a statement she was killed by an officer who fired birdshot to try to disperse the protest.

The prosecutor sent the case for trial in a criminal court, a rare action against a member of the security forces, on a charge of action that “led to the death of” Sabbagh, a lesser charge than murder and one her supporters said was too lenient.

Lawyers said that depending on which article of the penal code is applied to the unidentified officer, the sentence could range from three to 10 years.

Gamal Eid, head of the Arabic Network For Human Rights Information, said the charge showed “there was no political will to apply the law.”

Fellow activist and lawyer Sayed Abu el-Ila, whose photograph with Sabbagh dying in his arms provoked outrage on social media, told Reuters: “As a friend, a party colleague and a witness to the moment she was murdered I say that Shaimaa was killed again today with the prosecution's decision.”

President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, accused by critics of muzzling opponents, responded to the fury over Sabbagh's killing by referring to her as “my daughter” and “the daughter of Egypt,” and promised to bring her killers to justice.

The interior minister at the time of Sabbagh's death was sacked this month for unspecified reasons.

Many hoped Mubarak's fall would lead to greater freedom, but the government has cracked down hard on Islamists and secular activists since the army ousted Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013.

Critics say the police, whose power waned as Mubarak fell, have made a comeback and now act with impunity, a charge the Interior Ministry denies. Nearly all the 100 policemen tried for killing protesters in the 2011 revolt were acquitted.

On Tuesday, the public prosecutor also charged 16 people, including members of the now outlawed Brotherhood, with killing and inciting violence in connection with the deaths of 19 soccer fans who clashed with security forces last month.

In another case, the prosecutor said an investigation into the death of an activist in 2013 showed he died as a result of a car accident, contradicting accounts by two security sources at the time that he was beaten unconscious in detention.

Critics say Sissi has returned Egypt to authoritarian rule under the cloak of clamping down on militants who have killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen since Morsi's ouster.

The government denies rights abuses and says the Brotherhood is a terrorist group that threatens national security. The movement says it is committed to peaceful activism.