The Qasr Al-Nil Appeals Court upheld the innocence of the 17 witnesses to Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh’s death over violating the Protest Law, after rejecting the prosecution’s appeal on their initial acquittal.
The defendants were initially acquitted of the charges of protesting illegally on 23 May. The court had also ruled that there was no evidence of the prosecution’s claims that the defendants assaulted security forces. The current retrial began after the prosecution filed an appeal on the acquittal.
The 17 individuals witnessed Al-Sabbagh’s killing in January during a violent dispersal of a small 25 January 2011 anniversary demonstration by the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP). Instead of testifying in Al-Sabbagh’s killing case, the witnesses turned defendants themselves charged with illegal protesting.
The defendants include fellow party-member Mostafa Abdel Aal, a doctor who came to attend to Al-Sabbagh, and Azza Soliman, a prominent rights activist who was at lunch in a nearby cafe.
Besides violating the Protest Law, introduced by interim president Adly Mansour in 2013, outlawing unapproved demonstrations, other charges included assaulting security officers and using dangerous fireworks.
SPAP member Mohamed Saleh said in a statement that the defendants were confident of their innocence, asserting that the 24 January incident was not a protest, but a “commemorative delegation” that was heading towards Tahrir Square to pay tribute to the martyrs of the 25 January Revolution.
“We will continue our struggle to amend the protest law, to make it a law that organises protests and not prohibit them,” stated Saleh.
Meanwhile, a Cairo Criminal Court had sentenced Officer Yassin Salah Al-Din in June to 15 years in a maximum security prison on charges of “hitting” that “led to death” in Al-Sabbagh’s case. The charge is considered less severe than murder.
The Forensic Medicine Authority concluded that Al-Sabbagh’s death was caused by birdshot to the back, causing lacerations in the lungs and heart and major hemorrhage.
While the Ministry of Interior initially denied outright responsibility for Al-Sabbagh’s death and suggested that armed Muslim Brotherhood members were to blame, witnesses maintained that it was birdshot from security forces that caused her death.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) commented on the verdict against the police officer saying that it would serve justice but past convictions of police have been reversed on appeal.
HRW further criticised the lack of accountability for other police officers for killing protestors over the past two years.