CAIRO – An Egyptian court on Tuesday convicted four police officers in the deaths of 37 detainees, most of them supporters of the ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who suffocated in a police truck in which they were packed for hours before police lobbed in tear gas.
It is the first trial and conviction of police officers in connection to a crackdown on Islamists since Morsi was ousted in July. But the verdict outraged lawyers and families of the victims who said the police should have been tried for murder instead of manslaughter, which is considered a misdemeanor. One of the officers received a 10-year prison sentence while three others got one-year suspended sentences.
“This can’t be a ruling. This is an indirect acquittal,” Mohammed Abdel-Maaboud, one of eight detainees who survived the Aug. 18 ordeal in the police truck.
The 45 detainees – rounded up in a sweep against a protest – were held for hours in the parked truck meant to hold 24 people, until police fired tear gas into it, according to affidavit to court by an expert. Abdel-Maaboud described inmates slowly dying around him for nearly nine hours in the summer heat. The guards outside mocked them when they pleaded for water, he said.
The harrowing incident came days after security forces broke up two protest camps by Morsi supporters in Cairo in an assault that killed hundreds of protesters in the wake of Morsi’s ouster by the military in July. Months of protests by Islamists ensued, and hundreds died in the subsequent violence.