CAIRO— A Cairo appeals court on Saturday overturned the conviction of a police officer sentenced to 10 years in jail in connection with 39 deaths during political violence last year, judicial sources said.
In one of the most controversial incidents since the army’s July ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, 39 men died during what the Interior Ministry said was an attempted prison break. The ministry had described the men as Islamists, Muslim Brotherhood members and their supporters.
The prosecutor's office later said its investigations showed the men died while being transported to jail in an overcrowded police van into which tear gas was fired.
In March, at the original trial, Lt. Col. Amr Farouk was sentenced to 10 years in jail with labor on charges of involuntary manslaughter and extreme negligence.
Appeals court judge Mohamed Amel on Saturday sent the case back to the prosecutor general and ordered a new investigation that could result in a new trial or in the case being dismissed, legal sources said.
The decision "means that the case is back to square one," Amr Imam, a human rights attorney, told the news service AFP.
AFP reported the court also overturned suspended one-year sentences for three other officers involved in the case.
Journalists were forbidden from attending Saturday’s hearing at the Cairo police academy.
Reuters reported that, according to the website of the official newspaper, Al-Ahram, the four police officers cheered and yelled "long live justice!" after the judge read his decision.
Prosecutor’s office found problem
According to the prosecutor's office, 45 people were crammed into a van made to carry 24 and subjected to tear gas fire.
"This led to the death of 37 prisoners and the suffocation of two others," said its report issued last October.
An investigation by Britain's Guardian newspaper concluded that not all of those in the police van were Islamists. Some were not even Morsi supporters, it found, but had simply been rounded up in the chaos following the Aug. 14 clearing of a pro-Morsi sit-in in a Cairo suburb.
Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters and members of the security forces have been killed in the upheaval since Morsi was overthrown by former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who will be sworn in as president on Sunday. The Brotherhood, Egypt's biggest political force until last year, has been outlawed and driven underground.
It was not immediately clear if Farouk would be released from jail. The prosecutor general's office was not immediately available for comment.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP.