Witnesses, Who Say Police Killed Activist, Are to Be Charged in Egypt
|PIC from Here|
CAIRO — Egyptian prosecutors are bringing criminal charges against witnesses who said they saw the police kill an unarmed poet and activist during a demonstration, a lawyer who has seen the charges said on Monday.
The witnesses voluntarily told the Egyptian authorities that on Jan. 24, they had seen a group of riot police officers fire birdshot across a street into the peaceful march, which had been headed to Tahrir Square to lay memorial flowers to mark the anniversary, on the following day, of the Arab Spring uprising here.
The poet and activist, Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, 31, was among the marchers. Photographers captured what the witnesses saw: Ms. Sabbagh died of her wounds in the arms of a friend. Within days, stark images of her death circulated on the Internet and made her a symbol of police abuse, resonating so widely that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called for an investigation.
The most prominent witness, Azza Soliman, a human rights lawyer and the head of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, was having lunch with her family across the street from the march, as she and other witnesses have recounted many times.
Rumors began circulating last week that prosecutors intended to charge Ms. Soliman and other witnesses, in a possible attempt to intimidate them, with participating in an unauthorized street protest even though they were only bystanders.
On Monday, one of Ms. Soliman’s lawyers, Yasser Abdel Gawad, said prosecutors had for the first time allowed him to see and confirm the charges. Seventeen people, including Ms. Soliman, are to appear in court on Saturday for trial on charges of demonstrating without a permit, a crime that carries a penalty of up to several years in prison under a law passed shortly after the military takeover in 2013.
In an interview, Ms. Soliman reiterated that she was just “having lunch with friends and members of my family,” and she accused the authorities of seeking to bully witnesses into silence about the misconduct of the police. “The rule of law is becoming more and more meaningless and more and more weak,” she said.
“The police are sending a message that ‘nobody can judge the police, we can do anything,’ ” she added. “The message is very clear to anybody who sees anything not to go to the court, because they can see my example now. The police are trying to scare us.”
Spokesmen for the general prosecutor and the interior ministry declined to comment. Prosecutors had previously said they were charging a police officer with a form of manslaughter, battery leading to death, in connection with Ms. Sabbagh’s killing. But they have not disclosed the officer’s name