The Khanka Misdemeanor Court ordered on Tuesday the postponement of the trial of four police officers held responsible for the death of 37 prisoners until 24 December to hear the defence’s pleas and the request by the civil claims’ lawyers to change the tribunal.
The prosecutor’s office ordered on 21 October the four-day preventive detention of the three police officers and a vice-warden of the Heliopolis police station. They were charged after the investigative judge found conclusive evidence of their involvement in the death of the prisoners on 17 August.
The prisoners were reportedly killed at midday after they were arrested following the dispersal of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya. After being detained for three days in the Heliopolis police station, they were transported to Abo Za’abal Prison. According to reports, the prisoners complained of inadequate ventilation and began creating a disturbance inside the vehicle. This prompted the police officers to fire a teargas canister inside the vehicle, killing them. Out of 45 prisoners, only eight survived, one of whom is still in critical condition.
Basma Zahran, a civil claims attorney representing the victims, was present at the trial and said that the judge’s decision to postpone the case to hear the defence pleas was abnormal.
“He had already allowed the defence team to advocate their claims, which according to Egyptian judicial customs indirectly means that the judge is ready to produce a judgment,” Zahran said.
“The court lacked jurisdiction procedurally because the crime should have been defined as a felony and not a misdemeanour… we believe the officers had criminal intent as they refrained from preventing the death of the detainees,” she added.
“Even though this was pointed out in court, the judge ignored our claim, pushing us to plea to change the tribunal panel,” said Zahran.
Egyptian procedural law stipulates that pleas to change the tribunal panel compel the judge to suspend the court and review the claim.
The prosecutors charged the officers with manslaughter after their inability to prove their criminal intent, which is a prerequisite in first-degree murder.
Ahmad Al-Deeb, brother of victim Mohamed Al-Deeb, claimed that “many deaths also occurred from extensive torture during the time at the Heliopolis Police Station,” adding that when he saw his brother at the coroners and through confirmation of a medical doctor present, he had electrocution marks, burn marks, bruises, a wound in his torso.
Al-Deeb said that he does not believe his brother’s death was exclusively due to the “the teargas canister fired, but because of 43 tortured people being stacked in a vehicle with no ventilation for nine hours in the scorching sun,” claiming that “the story of the officer being held within the vehicle is false, as they were all shackled within the vehicle.”