A lenient prison sentence for the killers of a man whose death helped spark Egypt’s revolution has outraged Egyptians, who had hoped their uprising would wipe out the corruption and injustice symbolized by the case.
An Alexandria judge Wednesday found two policemen guilty of beating Khaled Said to death, said a lawyer in the case, and sentenced them to seven years in prison, the maximum sentence for manslaughter. The judge’s failure to bring harsher charges against the policemen left Egyptians bitter and disillusioned after hopes were raised recently that the case would be treated justly.
Egyptian activists, already embittered by a long string of disappointments and increasing repression by Egypt’s military, took the news badly. But while activists have become increasingly isolated from much of the population, which does not seem to share their virulent opposition to the military, Wednesday’s news united Egyptians in anger.
“They should have been given the death sentence,” says Hassan Ahmed, a doorman who lives in Cairo’s downtown district and does not care for politics or activism. “This is not the justice we demanded in [Cairo's Tahrir Square]. Did we make a revolution, or not?”
Hafez Abu Saeda, a lawyer for Mr. Said’s family, said the family has authorized him to appeal to Egypt’s attorney general to overturn the verdict and sentence. The policemen should be charged with torturing Said to death, he says, which carries a sentence of 25 years imprisonment to the death penalty. Such charges are required by Egypt’s commitment to international conventions against torture, he said.
“I hope that the attorney general will accept my argument,” Mr. Saeda said. “I will do my best, and my memo will be based on Egypt's ratification of the international Convention Against Torture.”
The two policemen dragged Said out of an Internet café in Alexandria on June 6, 2010, and according to witnesses, brutally beat him to death on the street. He had posted a video online that purported to show police splitting the spoils of a drug bust. Police said he died when he choked on a packet of marijuana, but photos of his mangled and bloody body soon began circulating on Facebook.
The photos provoked a groundswell of fury against widespread police brutality, torture, and injustice in Egypt. A Facebook page created soon after his death, called “We are All Khaled Said,” attracted huge numbers, and organized thousands to protest the coverup of Said’s death. It was the administrators of that page who called for a day of protest against the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak on Jan. 25. That protest turned into an 18-day popular uprising that swept Mubarak from power.
Before the revolution, the policemen in the case faced lesser charges, and the official forensic report submitted for the trial said Said choked to death on a marijuana packet. But in June the judge ordered a new report, and evidence was presented in September that the package was put into his mouth after his death, raising hope the charges would be elevated as well.