In a verdict that disappointed democracy activists, two policemen who beat a man to death have been convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter and given a relatively light sentence in a case that helped spark Egypt’s uprising.
Relatives of defendants Mahmoud Salah and Awad Ismail Suleiman were still outraged by Wednesday’s sentence of seven years in prison each for the two officers. They smashed benches in the courtroom in the northern port city of Alexandria, attacking the slain man’s uncle and lawyers despite the presence of other police and military troops.
Activists expressed disappointment not only with the verdict, but also with the fact that it was closed to the public, which they saw as signs that the revolution that ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February was having little effect on getting rid of deep-seated corruption.
The slain man, Khaled Said, was widely seen as Egypt’s version of Mohammed Bouazizi — the fruit seller whose self-immolation sparked the Tunisian revolution and the chain of Arab Spring uprisings in the region.
Last year’s killing of the 28-year-old Said was a wake-up call for many Egyptians, who complained about unchecked excessive force by police. Pictures of Said’s bloodied face, broken jaw and bruised body were widely circulated, and they became a rallying point for activists campaigning against widespread intimidation and killings by police in the Mubarak era.
A Facebook page created in Said’s memory was used to put out a call for the Jan. 25 protests that grew into the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak.
Said’s uncle, Ali Kassem, said the lesser conviction and light sentence came as a shock and “revived their sadness over the death of Khaled.”
Kassem said that he, lawyers and other family members were “besieged” in the courtroom, and instead of getting protection from the military police, one threatened to put one of Said’s lawyers in the defendant’s cage.
“Imagine the panic, the agony and the misery when you hear this verdict and then come under attack like this,” he said.
Mahmoud el-Bakry, one of Said’s lawyers, said: “The families of the policemen were about to kill me. I was dead for sure.”
“This case was like taking the pulse of the revolution, but the verdict tells us that the revolution has been aborted,” Kassem said by telephone. “This is a signal on which direction the revolution is heading.”
While lawyers are moving to ask the prosecutor general to appeal the verdict, activists took to Twitter to condemn the outcome, with some saying it was yet another setback for the pro-democracy movement and a bad omen for upcoming parliamentary polls.
On June 6 last year, two plainclothes policemen dragged Said out of an Internet cafe in Alexandria and beat him to death by smashing his head against marble stairs, according to witnesses.
Police and pro-government media outlets tried to portray him as a drug dealer who died after choking on a packet of drugs he swallowed as policemen approached.
The claim was met with derision after photos of his badly beaten body and bloodied face were circulated widely.
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