Egypt policemen jailed over detainee tear-gas deaths

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Men carry the coffin of an Islamist detainee who died when tear gas was fired into a transport vehicle (19 August 2013)Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Rights campaigners say Egypt's police officers are rarely punished for abuses

Four Egyptian policemen have been convicted at a retrial over the deaths of 37 detainees in August 2013.

The deputy chief of Heliopolis police station, Lt Col Amr Farouk, was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and extreme negligence.

Three other officers were given suspended one-year sentences.

The detainees were asphyxiated when tear gas was fired into the back of an overcrowded vehicle transporting them.

Security officials initially said the detainees, allegedly Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, had rioted and captured a guard while en route to Abu Zabal prison.

Officers said they were forced to respond by firing tear gas into the vehicle carrying 45 detainees. But state prosecutors accused them of acting recklessly.

Crowd-control experts said at the time that the detainees would have died in agony, gasping for air and incapable of resisting the guards.

'A way to shut us up'

Col Farouk was given a five-year sentence and the other officers suspended sentences at their initial trial. But in June 2014 an appeals court overturned the convictions.

Prosecutors appealed, leading to a retrial and Thursday's verdict.

Some of the victims' families condemned the sentences handed to the officers.

"This verdict... is merely a way to shut us up. It's unfair that 37 people die and one person gets a five-year sentence which he will probably appeal and walk free," Mohamed Maghrabi was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.

The detainees' deaths had come four days after almost 1,000 people were killed when security forces cleared two sit-ins in Cairo that were occupied by supporters of President Morsi, who was ousted by the military that July.

As many as 40,000 people are believed to have been detained since then and several hundred have been sentenced to death for alleged security offences, among them Mr Morsi and other senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders.