CAIRO — Two policemen convicted of beating a young man to death in a case that inspired Egypt's uprising were sentenced to seven years in prison on Wednesday, enraging families of the police who smashed wooden benches in the courtroom and tried to attack the dead man's lawyers and relatives, the lawyer said.
Khaled Said is seen as Egypt's Mohammed Bouazizi — the fruit seller whose self-immolation sparked the Tunisian revolution that began the chain of Arab Spring uprisings. His death became an immediate rallying point for activists campaigning against widespread police brutality and other human rights abuses under former President Hosni Mubarak. Months later, a Facebook page created in his memory was used to put out a call for the Jan. 25 protests that grew into the 18-day uprising.
The family said they were "shocked" by the verdict, adding it shows that the revolution is being "aborted." Egyptian activists immediately took to Twitter to condemn the light sentence, another in a long string of disappointments for the millions who considered this case a test of the extent that the revolution would sweep away deep-seated corruption and widespread injustice.
The 28-year-old Said died on June 6, 2010 after two plainclothes policemen dragged him out of an Internet cafe in the northern port city of Alexandria and beat him to death, according to witnesses.
Police tried to portray him as a drug dealer and claimed that Said choked on a packet of drugs he swallowed as they approached, a finding contested in recent forensic reports that showed the packet was forced into his mouth. The claim met with derision by many after photos of Said's corpse were widely circulated, showing his body covered with bruises, his teeth broken and jaw smashed.
After a public outcry, prosecutors initially charged the officers, Mahmoud Salah and Awad Ismail Suleiman, with illegal arrest and harsh treatment, although not with murder as the victim's family had demanded.
In June, when the court delayed its verdict, instead ordering an independent review of the disputed forensic evidence used in the defense of the two policemen. At that time, Said's family and rights advocates were hopeful that more serious charge could be added to the indictment.
Hopes became even stronger in September when new evidence and new forensic reports showed that the packet was actually forced into his mouth. During this session, the judge imposed a media ban — another measure that showed how authorities continue to operate like a police state. Even under Mubarak, most sensitive court cases were open to media coverage.
In the closed-door sessions, doctors provided evidence that the packet can't be even forced into the mouth while the person is still alive but must be after his death.
However with the light sentence, the lawyer Hafiz Abu-Saada said the court convicted the two of manslaughter, rejecting the more serious charge of murder or torture, as defined in international accords in which Egypt is a signatory.
Perhaps colored by decades of low expectations under Mubarak, other activists saw a bright side of the verdict, saying the conviction showed government campaign to depict Said as the "hashish martyr" was proven misleading.
Founder of the "We are all Khaled Said" Facebook page commented that the verdict cleared Said's name after state media portrayed him as a drug dealer.