Is latest court ruling in Egypt a case of justice undone?

When an Egyptian security officer shot an activist to death during a peaceful march in central Cairo last year, photos and video of the incident stirred international outrage.

On Sunday, a court in Cairo annulled the 15-year sentence that had been handed down to a police officer charged in the case, ordering a new trial in a different judicial jurisdiction.

Activist Shaimaa Sabbagh was fatally shot on Jan. 25, 2015, as she carried a flower to a memorial for protesters who died in the 2011 uprising that ended the rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

In June, police Lt. Yassin Hatem Salahedeen was indicted for firing birdshot pellets at peaceful protesters from a close range and was found guilty of “actions that led to the death” of Sabbagh.

Sabbagh was a few yards from the officer when she was shot, video and photos showed. She died instantly.

A member of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party, which organized the march, Sabbagh, 32, was among scores of protesters who dared to march on the revolt’s four-year anniversary.

A 2013 law issued by the military-backed government criminalized demonstrating without acquiring approval by the authorities — an unlikely prospect. Scores of protesters who defied the law have been detained and handed jail sentences for their actions since then.

On Sunday, a lawyer for the 25-year-old officer told the court that the killing was not intentional, saying the original protest was unauthorized and caused police to panic.

“The officer is only 25 years old and doesn’t have enough experience in dealing with protests,” said the attorney, Farid Deeb, who is known for defending Mubarak and his aides in cases involving charges of killing protesters and embezzlement.

The court’s decision to overturn the officer’s conviction recalled other recent cases in which police officers convicted of killing civilians were handed hefty jail terms to appease public anger, then were later acquitted or had their sentences reduced.

“Previous experiences have shown that retrials of police officers always result in their acquittal, like what happened with Mubarak and his aides and in other cases of torturing prisoners,” political researcher Mohamed Seif wrote on his Facebook page after Sunday’s hearing.

In March 2014, four officers were found guilty of negligence in the deaths of 37 political prisoners who were being transferred to prison in a police van the year before. They were sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison before the verdicts were annulled, and a retrial ended with suspended one-year terms for three of them.

Mubarak had received a life sentence for the deaths of more than 800 protesters during the revolt that toppled him; his verdict was later overturned.

It was not clear whether Salahedeen would be released pending a retrial, said Sabbagh’s lawyer, Mohamed Abdel Aziz.

Hassan is a special correspondent.


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