The Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered Wednesday the trial of four police officers in connection with the deaths of 37 detainees on 17 August.
On Monday the Prosecutor’s Office ordered the four-day preventive detention of the officers and refused a complaint issued against their detention by the interior ministry.
The prisoners were reportedly killed at midday prior to transport in a police vehicle, when inadequate ventilation caused them to create a disturbance, which in turn prompted the officers to fire a teargas canister inside.
The prisoners were being moved from the Heliopolis police station to Abu Zaabal prison, following a three-day investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office into their role in the Rabaa Square sit-in.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the officers are being charged of murder and negligence.
However, Basma Zahran, lawyer for Al-Nadeem Centre and representative for a number of victims’ families, said the officers are being charged with manslaughter rather than murder.
“As far as we know, manslaughter is the charge, as the prosecutor claimed it was a reaction to detainees’ unrest in the vehicle, and firing a teargas canister inside was the only way to stop them,” Zahran added.
Zahran said the attorneys “have requested to represent the victims through a civil claim within this criminal trial, but the prosecutor general’s office refused the request, telling the attorneys to press their plea during the trial itself.”
A statement released by the Prosecutor’s Office said that the victims “had been arrested after committing violations during protests held by supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi.”
“The officers are accused of being responsible for the deaths of 37 detainees who suffocated to death in a police truck while being transported to the Abu Zaabal jail,” the statement added. “The decision comes in adherence to the principles of accountability and equality before the law”
Confusion arose regarding the number of detainees killed, with anti-torture groups claiming that 52 detainees were killed, while the Ministry of Interior claimed that 36 detainees were killed. State-owned Al-Ahram reported Tuesday that 49 detainees were killed.