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Egyptian Court Acquits 17 Charged in Deadly Protest

FILE - Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi chant slogans during a protest in Ramses Square in downtown Cairo, 2013.

An Egyptian court on Saturday acquitted 17 people of charges related to a street protest earlier this year, judicial sources said, a rare decision since Egypt introduced a strict protest law in late 2013.

The demonstration in January, a march marking the anniversary of the uprising against veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011, caught the world's attention after the shooting death of 32-year-old protester Shaimaa Sabbagh was caught on video.

The public prosecutor has charged a police officer who allegedly fired birdshot to try to disperse the protest.

Defense lawyer Sayed Abu el-Ila, who was photographed with Sabbagh dying in his arms, told Reuters this was the first acquittal since the protest law came into force in 2013.

The statute curtailed demonstrations, a regular feature of the turbulent years since Mubarak's overthrow, and has landed many of the leaders of that initial uprising behind bars.

"I am not pleased by an acquittal at the expense of Shaimaa's blood," Abu el-Ila told reporters. "Shaimaa sacrificed her life to oppose an unjust law, and the law is still in place."

President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi has come under pressure over what critics perceive as heavy-handed security tactics since the army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in mid-2013 following mass protests against his rule.

A crackdown that began with the deaths of hundreds of Brotherhood supporters and the imprisonment of thousands more has expanded to include liberals and other activists.

A separate court on Saturday began a trial of Morsi and 25 others on charges of insulting the judiciary. The defendants include top Brotherhood leaders as well as television host Tawfiq Okasha and liberals Alaa Abdel Fattah and Amr Hamzawy.

Morsi was sentenced to 20 years in prison last month on charges arising from the killing of protesters and faces the death penalty in connection with a mass jail break in 2011.

He has described the legal proceedings against him as part of a coup.

"I respect the court, [but] I reject the trial because it is not legally authorized," Morsi said in court on Saturday. "I was not informed of this case. I found myself in this place by force because of the coup led by the defense minister (Sissi), who will be judged for that."

The trial was postponed until July 27.