The Abdeen Misdemeanour Court acquitted Saturday 17 defendants, all members of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP), of protest charges in the incidents involving the death of Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh.
“The verdict proves that the police used force against civilians illegally and with no need,” said defence lawyer Anas Sayed, in comments to Daily News Egypt following the acquittal.
Sayed said that they expected the acquittal of the defendants because of the legal flaws of the Protest Law they were being charged with. “Besides, the nature of the party members’ public assembly does not fall under the description of protest,” he said.
“The judge did not even hear the defence lawyers,” Sayed said. “We also had several demands: re-investigations into the case and halting the trial until a verdict is issued on the constitutionality of the Protest Law according to which they were being accused.”
The case dates back to 24 January, ahead of the fourth anniversary of the 25 January revolution. Party member Al-Sabbagh and a group came from Alexandria to march towards Tahrir Square in commemoration of the revolution’s dead.
The march was dispersed by force, despite its limited number and peaceful nature, which resulted in the killing of 32-year-old Al-Sabbagh, allegedly by police birdshot.
Al-Sabbagh’s case included two parts: the trial of the protesters and the trial of the Central Security Forces (CSF) officer facing charges of manslaughter and deliberate injury of civilians. His next trial session is expected on 7 June.
According to Sayed, Al-Sabbagh’s lawyers are concerned the CSF officer’s defence would find its way out of the charges. This pushed them to demand the judge change the description of the charge, from using “force that led to death” into intentional homicide.
Sayed explained that police records of weapons used on that day did not include any birdshots. Photo evidence presented to court, however, showed the officer loading his gun with birdshots, which according to Sayed proves that there was an “intention to kill”.
Al-Sabbagh’s case has been controversial due to the excessive use of force by security against civilians. The Forensic Medicine Authority’s spokesperson statements further added to the confusion, and resulted in his dismissal.
The case also raised several criticisms to the state due to the fact that eye-witnesses to the incidents were turned into suspects in the protest case when they voluntarily went to provide their testimonies.
The acquittal verdict will have a positive impact on the other case, but Sayed hoped the case would not conclude speedily, because it contributed to public opinion pressure pushing for the officer’s accountability for Al-Sabbagh’s death.