CAIRO — Egypt's chief prosecutor on Tuesday referred a police officer to trial for the killing of a female protester during a peaceful demonstration nearly two months earlier in a widely documented shooting.
The death of 32-year old Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, a mother of a young boy, in January on the eve of the 2011 uprising's anniversary caused an intense public outcry. Despite widely circulated footage that showed two masked, black-clad policemen pointing their rifles in el-Sabbagh's direction as gunshots rang out and a voice commanded "fire," authorities initially denied that police had any involvement in her death.
The case has renewed accusations from rights groups and political opposition activists that Egypt's powerful police force enjoys almost blanket impunity. Amnesty International said authorities in Egypt are covering up excessive use of force by police, taking no action to rein in abuse.
Almost all of the over 100 policemen tried for killing protesters during Egypt's 2011 revolution were acquitted, with judges citing shoddy investigation or lax evidence in cases largely probed by the police themselves.
The uproar over el-Sabbagh's death prompted Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to urge an investigation but he hinted that individual mistakes should not undermine public confidence in the police. The interior minister at the time of her death has since been replaced in a Cabinet shuffle.
Chief prosecutor Hisham Barakat said in a statement that the investigation revealed el-Sabbagh died from birdshot fired toward her and other protesters by an officer ordered to disperse the protest. Barakat charged one police officer with involuntary manslaughter, punishable by up to seven years. No trial date has been set.
El-Sabbagh's family lawyer Mohammed Abdel-Aziz said authorities had denied him access to the investigation or the right to attend the interrogations.
In an indication of how the case may proceed, Barakat said the protesters were holding an illegal gathering, without prior permission from the authorities. He referred an undetermined number of protest organizers from el-Sabbagh's political party to trial for violating a draconian 2013 law that bans unauthorized protests.
Abdel-Aziz said some 13 members of el-Sabbagh's party, the Popular Alliance, were referred to trial.