Khaled Said verdict – and Egyptian justice – delayed again

A verdict for two policemen accused in the murder of Khaled Said, the young man whose beating death helped spark Egypt's revolution, was postponed until September.

By , Correspondent

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    Demonstraters chant anti-police slogans outside a court building during the trial of two police officers charged with causing the death of activist Khaled Said, in Alexandria June 30. The Egyptian court said on Thursday it would rule on Sept. 24 in the case of the two policemen charged with beating Said to death, whose death partly inspired protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
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The verdict in the case of Khaled Said, a young businessman whose murder last June planted the seeds for the nation’s revolution, was postponed today until Sept. 24, once again delaying justice.

“I’ve been waiting for the verdict, but this is how it works in Egypt,” says Omar al-Shamy, a young man who was injured by a tear-gas canister and metal pellets fired by police in the early hours of Wednesday morning. “I didn’t expect the postponement, but I’m not surprised.”

The deferral could work in favor of Said's family, however. Officials from the Alexandria Criminal Court said the delay was to create time to form an investigative committee to examine two autopsy reports and pictures while the two accused policemen are in custody, Reuters reported.

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The Said case is of symbolic importance to Egypt's revolution, which stemmed in part from a Facebook page called “We are all Khaled Said.” Created by Google executive Wael Ghonim, the page attracted tens of thousands of members fed up with police brutality and torture. It helped spark the uprising that brought hundreds of thousands more to the streets for 18 days of revolutionary protests that ultimately led to Mubarak’s ouster.

“This case mobilized people in a way never seen before in Egypt and it was part of the buildup that led to Tahrir,” says Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch. Torture and abuse cases have been widespread in Egypt for decades, but police are seldom held accountable.

Many suspect that the forensic documents regarding the case are fabricated. For instance, early police reports said Mr. Said died because he choked on a packet of marijuana that he swallowed when the police entered the cafe, despite multiple witnesses who say they saw policemen beating him. His family insists Said didn't even smoke tobacco.

Said was dragged from an Internet cafe in the northern city of Alexandria in June and beaten and killed. His alleged assailants are policemen Mahmoud Salah Mahmoud and Awad Ismael Soliman. He had earlier posted online video that appeared to show members of Sidi Gaber police station – where both Mr. Salah and Mr. Soliman work – dividing up the proceeds of a drug bust.

Pictures of Said’s mutilated body circulated quickly online, inciting public outrage.

Still waiting

This isn’t the first time the verdict has been postponed. But this delay comes amid boiling tension over police brutality and delayed justice. Beginning Tuesday, outraged protesters clashed with police in the Nile-side neighborhood of Agouza and later moved to Tahrir Square. Clashes carried on into Wednesday morning, leaving more than 1,000 people injured, according to Ministry of Health statistics.

Protesters demanded speedier trials of police officers and officials responsible for killing over 800 demonstrators in the days leading up to Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. Earlier in the week, the trial of former Interior Minister Habib Al-Adly had been postponed. With the Said verdict also delayed, protesters continue their fight for justice and demand reform.

A public prosecutor in the Ministry of Justice who spoke on condition of anonymity argued delaying the Said verdict makes sense.

“The judge has postponed for many months because you can’t come out with the verdict now – he can’t even think about releasing it without some sort of punishment,” the prosecutor says. Analysts say anything short of a death sentence will likely face harsh criticism from a livid public, even if execution doesn’t qualify as fair given the available evidence.

A sea of crime

If a verdict had been handed down today and the policemen convicted, many say it would only be a drop in the bucket of injustices that need to be addressed in a judicial system where little has changed.

“There have been no changes legally, procedurally to the whole structure,” Ms. Morayef says. “And, in fact, we have the same public prosecutor in place.”

The public prosecutor’s office investigates crimes and prosecutes offenders. While it is technically an independent judicial body, experts say the body lacks autonomy from the Interior Ministry and inherent structural tensions inhibit impartiality. Some believe it receives orders from the government or the ruling military council, which has been running the country since Feb. 11.

A January 2011 report by Human Rights Watch, which also detailed a slew of other issues, said that Egypt’s legal framework doesn’t entirely criminalize torture. Moreover, most torture complaints never even reach court due to an “inadequate legal framework, police intimidation of victims who then withdraw complaints, and ineffective and delayed investigations,” the report said. This results in a substantial gap between the documented number of torture complaints and those that end in conviction.

Human rights watchdogs say final sentences were issued to only six police officers over a five-year period beginning in 2006, citing government statistics published in November 2009.

But some argue that the justice system could be worse.

“The judiciary system in Egypt is much, much better than systems in other Arab countries,” Bahey el-Din Hassan of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies says. “But of course it doesn’t have full independence.”

Several tents are back in Tahrir Square as of Thursday morning, after protesters spent the night. Some of the protesters a "purification" sit-in tomorrow and a massive “save the revolution” rally on July 8.

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