Egypt jails policeman 15 years over death of woman protester killed by birdshot

A file picture taken on Jan 24, 2015, shows Egyptian Shaima al-Sabbagh receiving assistance after she was injured during clashes with police during a rare leftwing protest in central Cairo, the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 uprising against Hosn
A file picture taken on Jan 24, 2015, shows Egyptian Shaima al-Sabbagh receiving assistance after she was injured during clashes with police during a rare leftwing protest in central Cairo, the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak. -- PHOTO: AFP

CAIRO (AFP) - An Egyptian court on Thursday sentenced a policeman to 15 years in jail over the fatal shooting of a woman during a peaceful leftist rally, a court official said.

Shaima al-Sabbagh, a 34-year-old mother of a five-year-old, was struck by birdshot in January as police dispersed a small march on the fourth anniversary of the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak.

Her death triggered outrage in Egypt and abroad, and anger also spread after the officer was not charged with murder or manslaughter but with “battery that led to death” and “deliberately” wounding other protesters.

The trial, however, was the first time a policeman has been referred to trial in connection with the violent death of a protester since then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Part of the shooting that lead to Sabbagh’s death was captured on film, prompting Sisi to publicly demand that the perpetrator be brought to justice.

The policeman, who was not named, can appeal the verdict.

Sabbagh suffered the fatal wounds when the officer fired birdshot to disperse the peaceful protest that had been organised by her Socialist Popular Alliance, a small leftist party.

Marchers had been carrying a wreath to a monument in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to commemorate the deaths of protesters during the 2011 revolt that toppled Mubarak.

Tahrir Square was the epicentre of the uprising and the scene of violent confrontations between police and protesters.

Dozens of policemen were tried for protester deaths after the revolt against Mubarak, which had been partly fuelled by police abuses.

Most have been acquitted, including the former police chief and other commanders who stood trial with Mubarak.

The 87-year-old former president must stand trial over the deaths of hundreds of protesters, after an Egyptian appeals court this month annulled a decision to drop murder charges against him.

Police have also been accused of killing hundreds of mostly Islamist protesters after Morsi’s ouster, including about 700 in one day in August 2013 when they dispersed a Cairo sit-in.

A crackdown launched by authorities on Morsi supporters has also seen thousands jailed and hundreds sentenced to death in mass trials.