HRW: Egyptian police killed Shaimaa al-Sabbagh

HRW: Egyptian police killed Shaimaa al-Sabbagh
4 min read
02 February, 2015
A report released by a human rights organisation affirms the Egyptian police is responsible for the killing of young socialist activist, Shaimaa al-Sabbagh.
The Egyptian interior ministry has denied police involvement in Sabbagh's death [al-Araby]
A Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigation into the killing of Egyptian socialist activist Shaimaa al-Sabagh, 32, on 24 January "strongly indicates" she was killed by Egyptian security forces.

Photographs, videos and witness statements gathered and analysed by HRW indicate Sabbagh was fatally shot by "a masked man in dark clothes" who is seen "standing beside a uniformed officer, identified as a police brigadier general, in the street."

The Justice Ministry's Forensic Medical Authority spokesperson, Hisham Abd al-Hamid, said in an interview with Al-Hayat TV channel on 24 January 2015 Sabbagh was shot by a "birdshot" in the back and neck.
     The world is watching to see whether this case breaks the pattern of impunity for rights abuses.
- Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW director

The investigation carried out by HRW contradicts claims made by an official from the Interior Ministry on 28 January 2015, who asserted that the weapon that killed Sabbagh was not used by the Egyptian police and suggested that videos of her being shot were fabricated.

Sarah Leah Winston, HRW Middle East and North Africa director urged the Egyptian prosecutor general "to follow through on his pledge to bring those responsible for Sabbagh's death to justice".

"The world is watching to see whether this case breaks the pattern of impunity for rights abuses that has marred Egyptian justice since the 2011 uprising," she added.

On the day of Sabbagh's murder Hisham Barakat, prosecutor general, said that his office would investigate [Ar] her death.

In a statement, Barakat alleged his office was committed to applying "the law to everyone with all firmness and without discrimination and to presenting the perpetrators of the incident – whoever they were – to criminal prosecution".

However, Barakat later said "preliminary investigations" had found the police only used teargas after protesters refused to disperse, and had hurled rocks and stones at the police.

Human Rights Watch video shows police shot Sabbagh

An Egyptian newspaper photographer documenting the march rejected Barakat's account. He told HRW that police officers started attacking demonstrators with shotguns and tear gas within minutes of the protesters, who were chanting slogans from the 2011 revolution, arriving at Talat Harb square in downtown Cairo.

The HRW report asserted that police deployed to the scene "used excessive force" to disperse a small and peaceful demonstration. It also claims shots were fired by the police at protesters marching towards Tahrir square.

After stabilising and enhancing the video footage it became clear Sabbagh "immediately fell to the ground" after the third shot was heard.

The investigation revealed a masked man "adopts a shooting stance and points his firearm in the protesters direction as the police officer runs forward and points at the protesters". This is believed to be the fatal shot that brutally ended Sabbagh's life.

Ten protesters who attended the march called for by the Popular Socialist Alliance to commemorate the 25 January revolution martyrs, were arrested and charged with violating the anti-protest law.

The anti-protest law, deemed "repressive" by Amnesty International, was legislated in November 2013. The law bans any unauthorised gathering - private or public - of more than 10 people, and any unauthorised demonstration or sit-in similar to those that toppled former Egyptian President, Mouhammed Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Hundreds of Egyptians have been imprisoned for violating the anti-protest law, including prominent political blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah and his younger sister Sanaa Sief, who was detained while calling for her brother's release.

Eye witnesses who delivered testimonies to the district prosecutor investigating the killing were also under threat. Zahdi al-Shami, 60, head of the Popular Alliance Party to which Sabbagh belonged, was interrogated for nine hours before being detained. Azza Soliman, a lawyer and director of the Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance, told HRW the prosecutor in charge of the investigation into Sabbagh's killing tried to arrest her when she delivered her testimony.

Since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution in 2011 thousands of protesters have been killed. However, only three low-ranking officers have been jailed. No one has yet been convicted for the biggest massacre in Egypt's modern history, when around 1,500 supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood were killed in August 2013.

"After so many protesters have died exercising their basic rights, the prosecutor general needs to step up and ensure that those responsible for this death are held to account," Winston said.