The Khanka Misdemeanour Court sentenced on Tuesday the vice warden of the Heliopolis Police Station to 10 years in prison and three police officers to a suspended one year in prison over the death of 37 detainees inside a police vehicle on 18 August, 2013.
The detainees were killed as a teargas canister was shot into a vehicle transporting them from the Heliopolis Police Station to the Abu Zaabal Prison.
The court also referred the civilian case to the concerned court. Basma Zahran, lawyer for Al-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Victims working on the case, explained that the verdict bars the victims’ lawyers from appealing the verdict.
“The verdict sends the case to the civilian court,” Zahran said. “Victims and their families could ask the court for financial compensation. However, only the prosecution and the defendants’ lawyers would be allowed to appeal the verdict.”
Mohamed Abdel Maaboud, one of the survivors of the incident, described the verdict as a “masquerade”, adding that sentence was expected.
Hany Abdel Latif, spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, said the ministry would not comment on a court verdict.
“We are committed to the implementation of the judiciary and prosecution verdicts,” he said.
The detainees were killed after being arrested during the forcible dispersal of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya on 14 August. After being detained for three days, they were transported to Abu Zaabal Prison. The prisoners complained of inadequate ventilation and allegedly began creating a disturbance, prompting the police officers to fire a teargas canister inside the vehicle. Of the 45 prisoners, only seven survived, one of whom is still in critical condition.
The prosecutors charged the officers with manslaughter after their inability to prove their criminal intent in murder, which is a prerequisite in first-degree murder. Maha Youssef, another Al-Nadeem Centre lawyer working on the case, had earlier criticised the charge, saying that “the officers were aware of the danger of using tear gas in a closed space and that it would lead to death.” Lawyers have repeatedly requested referring the case to a criminal court instead.
An expert summoned to give an opinion on the case said that the vehicle transporting the deceased detainees could accommodate no more than 24 persons. Youssef added that the ventilation system in the vehicle was not working.
Zahran said that the person who decided to transport the 45 prisoners in a vehicle with a much smaller capacity and to keep them held inside for almost six hours should be held accountable.
“We also want to know who fired the teargas canister into the vehicle, the latter being present within the vicinity of Abu Zaabal Prison,” Zahran said. The prosecution’s report states that “an unidentified person” fired the teargas canister.
Abdel Maaboud said: “This case doesn’t end here; there will be a time when the case will be reopened and the ending will be different.”
Seif Al-Islam Hammad, a lawyer from Hisham Mubarak Law Centre working on the case, said the families of the victims will resort to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights should the domestic judiciary fail to achieve retribution for those killed. Egypt is yet to ratify the protocol which established the court.
“I doubt that the Egyptian judiciary will do us justice,” Hammad said during a press conference on Saturday. “The public prosecution and the judiciary have become the state’s arms of injustice.”