Dozens of journalists and lawyers gathered Saturday morning in front of the Abdeen Court, Downtown Cairo, ahead of the first trial session in the controversial killing case of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh.
The trial involves 17 defendants from the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP), to which Al-Sabbagh belonged. No date has yet been set for the trial of the police officeraccusedof her killing.
Police forces at the Abdeen Court first refused to grant entry for the SPAP’s leading members, Medhat El-Zahed and Talaat Fahmy, despite Fahmy being among the defendants. There was also no legal reason for their being barred, except that police said the session should be closed to the public.
As journalists were also kept outside, tensions mounted as El-Zahed told security forces their attitude would result in a bigger assembly in front the court, “for which I will hold you responsible”, he shouted addressing the police.
They were eventually allowed to enter, as were journalists, but security forces were harassing reporters and preventing them from taking pictures, whether inside or outside the court.
There was a marked presence of renowned lawyers and human rights advocates at the courtroom, including well-known labour rights’ lawyer Khaled Ali, Tarek El-Awady (from the Ultras White Knights case), Khaled Daoud (from Al-Dostour Party), Nasser Amin (from the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights), among many other rights’ lawyers from different civil organisations.
Defendants, who are also victims according to head of the defence team Ali Soliman, are facing accusations of organising a march at Talaat Harb Square on 24 January. The march had been organised ahead of the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. They were initially accused of breaching the Protest Law’s requirement of prior notification of protests.
However. according to Fahmy, who spoke to Daily News Egypt outside court before the trial, the police have a list of “fabricated charges”. Those include assaulting security officers and using dangerous fireworks. “All of that despite that there were videos showing what really happened,” he said.
Fahmy’s role during the march was to try and negotiate with security forces, before he was arrested. “We were carrying flowers and marching towards Tahrir Square to commemorate the martyrs of the revolution,” Fahmy said.
“It was not a protest, it was a very limited peaceful march,” Fahmy continued. “The officers’ tone was aggressive as they refused, and I barely turned my back to leave when the shooting began.”
He added that security forces did not follow the legal procedures required to disperse a protest. These vary from initial verbal warnings, gradually moving to the use of tear gas or birdshots in case protesters are violent or represent a direct threat to the police.
“They ran towards the rest of the members while shooting at the same time. People had begun to fall down, and Al-Sabbagh was among them,” Fahmy said.
Abdul Mawla Ismail, member of SPAP’s political bureau in Cairo, was also a participant in the march, which he said barely lasted for five minutes.
“Fahmy even compromised to tell the security officers that they would not march to Tahrir Square but only to Talaat Harb Square,” Ismail said.
SPAP’s office is in a side street close to Talaat Harb Street and the square with the same name, less than 200 metres away from their meeting point for the march.
According to SPAP members, the problem is that they were willing to leave after failing to gain the authorities’ approval, but security forces did not give them enough time to withdraw.
“Fahmy did not even get the chance to return to us to tell us the result of his conversation with the officers. They just began shooting,” Ismail said.
The protest case is being looked into by the Qasr El-Nil Misdemeanour Court, which adjourned the trial to 9 May. The defendants are not in jail.
The postponement would work in favour of defence lawyers, who had not obtained a copy of the investigations’ report until the court session, despite all legal rights they are entitled to, according to lawyer Ali Soliman.
Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat had referred an officer from the Central Security Forces (CSF) to the Criminal Court on 17 March, on accusations of manslaughter and deliberate injuries of protesters.
But SPAP members are not satisfied.
“He is not the only police officer responsible,” Fahmy stated, explaining that others should be held accountable, such as his supervisor who ordered him to fire, the conscript who was helping him with his gun, and most importantly, former minister of interior Mohamed Ibrahim.
“Ibrahim denied the claims more than once – isn’t that lying and covering up? If all those people are not held accountable, then the police will continue to do as it pleases,” he commented.
A party member, who identified himself as Khalaf from the governorate of Sohag, and who witnessed the incidents, told Daily News Egypt that all they wanted to do is “send a message that we did not forget the martyrs of the revolution”.
Khalaf told the same story, adding that all party members were still devastated and want retribution. “The charge of mistakenly killing somebody is not enough, not real, not true,” he said.
Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh died on 24 January. The Forensic Medicine Authority concluded that her death was caused by a birdshot in the back, causing lacerations in the lungs and heart, with major haemorrhage. The case has continued to spark controversy after authorities turned eyewitnesses into suspects in the case.