Four police officers charged with negligence relating to the death of 37 detained protesters in August of 2013 had their sentences overturned by an appeals court on Saturday.
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 Khanka Misdemeanour Court of Appeals cancelled the preliminary verdict sending the vice warden of the Heliopolis Police Station to 10 years in prison and three police officers to a suspended one year in prison. The court returned the case to the public prosecution.
Maha Youssef, head of Al-Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Victims’ Legal Unit and one of the lawyers working on the case, said the court’s move could be good for the victims.
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 eight survived.
According to Youssef, referring the case back to the prosecution happens for one of the following three reasons: shortage in the prosecution’s investigation, amending the charges, or adding defendants to the case. Youssef said the legal team is yet to know the reason behind the court’s decision.
“We hope this decision leads to amending the charge,” Youssef said.
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. Youssef 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.
During the previous investigation, an expert was summoned to give an opinion on the case, saying that the vehicle transporting the deceased detainees could accommodate no more than 24 persons.
The guilty verdict, which was overturned Saturday, was handed down on 18 March.