Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh, a member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, died Saturday afternoon in a protest near Tahrir Square after being hit by birdshot in the back. The shotgun pellets caused a laceration in the lungs and heart, with major haemorrhage, according to the primary report by the Forensic Medicine Authority, the party reported.
Al-Sabbagh, 31, was allegedly shot by security forces, during the dispersal of a small protest using teargas and birdshot, according to eyewitness reports.
The Socialist Popular Alliance had organised a “march of flowers” ahead of the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution. The march was supposed to move from the party’s headquarters in Talaat Harb Street to the Memorial of the Martyrs of the 25 January Revolution in Tahrir Square, where the flowers would have been laid.
“Shaimaa travelled from her hometown Alexandria to Cairo to specifically participate in the march,” Ahmed Abdeen, a freelance journalist who was close to the victim and attend her funeral told Daily News Egypt Sunday.
Al-Sabbagh’s funeral was held in Alexandria Sunday noon, as Abdeen said it was attended by nearly 10,000 people amid revolutionary chants, adding that pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters withdrew when people chanted against Mohamed Morsi and Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
Saturday’s protest was comprised of nearly 50 people who carried the party’s banner, in addition to some posters related to social justice. Published pictures showed masked security forces carrying tear gas grenade guns and standing near the protesters.
The Socialist Popular Alliance held a press conference Sunday with the participation of Al-Dostour Party, in which members blamed the regime’s violent pursuit of democracy advocates, in addition to security officials’ non-differentiation between “terrorists” and peaceful protesters.
Khaled Daoud, activist and spokesperson for Al-Dostour Party, said the “government was lying and mixing between terroristic demonstrations and the killing of Al-Sabbagh amid protesters carrying flowers”.
Al-Dostour Party, chaired by Halla Shukrallah, condemned what it referred to as the “excessive use of force by the police in the face of peaceful [demonstrators]”, demanding immediate investigations and warning against public anger that once sparked the protests in 2011 against “the insults against human dignity, killings and tortures of the regime’s repressive practices,” the party said in a statement Saturday.
Al-Sabbagh was an activist and member of the party. Lawyer and activist Mahienour El-Massry commented on her Facebook account saying she knew Al-Sabbagh before the 2011 revolution. “She believed in the revolution, she hated the ‘thuggery’ of the military state,” El-Massry wrote.
Videos of the incident were broadcast on TV channels and the internet, showing several of her colleagues of the protesters carrying Al-Sabbagh, whose injury in the face could be seen, as she seemed unconscious while looking for transportation to the hospital.
In the meantime, Al-Sabbagh’s colleagues and some of the people who tried to help her were arrested, Yehia Al-Ga’afary, a member of the Socialist Popular Alliance, told Daily News Egypt Sunday.
“Police arrested the party’s secretary-general Talaat Fahmy; Mohamed Saleh, in charge of students’ affairs at the party; Sayed Abul Ela, a senior member of the workers’ affairs at the party; one of the people who carried Al-Sabbagh after the shooting; and Hossam Nasr, a fourth member of the party,” Al-Gaafary said.
He added that the manager of the café where Al-Sabbagh was taken was arrested, in addition to a photojournalist and a doctor who were providing assistance to the victim, and Mostafa Abdul Al, a supporter and friend of the party.
“They were beaten and taken to the police station of Qasr Al-Nile,” Al-Gaafary stated. “They have not been referred to the prosecution yet, but were transferred to Abdeen police station.”
The Association for Freedom and Thought Expression (AFTE) tweeted Sunday that the arrested members were accused by prosecution authorities of violating the protest law, assaulting security officials and possession of fireworks.
“Qasr Al-Nile prosecution authorities listened to the testimonies of five arrested people but then turned them from eye-witnesses to suspects,” AFTE said on Twitter.
Al-Gaafary also said that the party did not think of their small march as a protest and did not obtain authorisation according to the Protest Law, but when security forces interrupted their demonstration the members began negotiating with officials, until the shooting started.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and the prosecutor general’s office called on eye-witnesses to present their testimonies to speed up investigations into the incident, while the Ministry of Interior denied responsibility and suggested that ‘terrorist elements’ infiltrated the protest, and will continue to produce chaos in the anniversary of the revolution.
This comes as security forces surrounded the square and the Ministry of Interior announced “intense security measures”, warning citizens against participating in any protests. As such, Journalists Against Torture independent group warned reporters who plan to provide live coverage for Sunday’s events.
The armed forces coordinated with the Ministry of Interior to form groups of ‘special battle forces’ to disperse protests on 25 January, state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported on 21 January.
“No matter how big the story you will tell your readers is, the more important thing is that you come home safe,” the movement said. Journalists Against Torture also advised reporters not to stand among protesters or security forces, not to express political views, to avoid clashing with police in case of arrest and show ID instead, to be knowledgeable of the area’s entries and exits, and to be equipped with first aid material.
“Female reporters are advised to wear clothes that are difficult to tear to avoid sexual assault and harassment,” the group added.
Several TV channels followed up on the incidents and interviewed Hisham Abdul Hamid the official spokesperson of the Forensic Medicine Authority, as well as Abdel Fattah Osman, media spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior, who said on CBC channel that the police did not use birdshots in the dispersal.
Activists denounced controversial TV host Ahmed Moussa who presents his show on Sada El-Balad, who used a photo from a previous protest where a man wearing civilian clothes apparently holding a birdshot gun, claiming he was the killer.
Moussa claimed the police did not shoot protesters, accusing activists such as lawyer Khaled Ali of planning their own “bloody events”, to create propaganda and accuse the police.
Moussa and a journalist named Nagat Abdul Rahman had previously condemned the 25 January Revolution, insulted its participants and referred to activists as “traitors”. Activist Israa Abdel Fattah filed a lawsuit against the two last September, and the Press Syndicate referred them to investigation on grounds of defamation last September.
Moussa has been charged with spreading false news about rights lawyer Tarek Al-Awady, while former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi decided to sue him at the beginning of this year.
In his Saturday night show, Moussa said: “It was not the time for protests, as the country is mourning King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz’s death last Friday,” for which President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi announced a seven-day state mourn.
Similarly, TV presenter Mostafa Sherdy used the same video on Mehwer TV channel and said the participants in the protests “push us to hate the 25 January Revolution, despite the president’s speech that insisted on maintaining the values of the revolution.”
The picture reportedly belonged to the youth movement ‘Ahrar‘ which organised a protest on 22 January in the surroundings of Tahrir Square, and Al-Shorouk newspaper had posted the photo as part of its coverage on that day.
The Egyptian government has suspended celebrations of the revolution due to the death of former Saudi king Abdullah. The government removed Tahrir Square’s memorial stone base, installed and inaugurated in November 2013 by former prime minister Hazem El-Beblawy.
“The stone was removed last week amid development and restoration works in Tahrir Square,” Khaled Mostafa, the spokesperson for Cairo Governorate told Daily News Egypt over the phone, but was unable to confirm what the exact replacement would be.