The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has issued a report castigating Egypt’s police for killing leftist activist Shaimaa Sabbagh last Saturday, the day before the fourth anniversary of the January 25 revolution.
Sabbagh was shot dead as she marched to Tahrir with the Popular Social Alliance Party to place flowers in the iconic square in remembrance of the revolution’s anniversary.
Testimonies from four eyewitnesses were included in the report, in addition to 18 photographs and three videos.
According to HRW, “the security forces deployed in Talaat Harb Square that day used excessive force in response to a small, peaceful march organized by the Popular Socialist Alliance Party, and fired teargas and birdshot at the protesters apparently without warning.”
The evidence clearly “shows a uniformed police officer apparently directing a masked man who fires a shotgun toward a group of about two dozen peaceful protesters whom police were dispersing from Talaat Harb Square. Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, 32, is seen immediately falling to the ground following the shot. She died later from what medical authorities described as ‘birdshot’ injuries,” the report asserted.
The Interior Ministry has denied any responsibility for Sabbagh’s death, but Sarah Leah Whitson — HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director — reiterated the organization’s demand to bring Sabbagh’s killers 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,” Whitson said.
HRW has come under fire from the Egyptian government in the past for criticizing its human rights violations. Recently, the group accused Sisi and the security authorities of committing likely crimes against humanity following the violent dispersal of two pro-Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in 2013, which claimed more than 1,000 lives.
In what could have been a subtle acknowledgement of the police’s role in Sabbagh’s death, during a meeting with military and police personnel at the Galaa Theater on Sunday, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that an entire institution could not be blamed for one person’s mistake.
It’s important to admit a mistake, regardless of its magnitude, Sisi continued, adding that all of Egypt’s youth were his children.
“The prosecutor general is investigating the case with complete transparency, and any officer or conscript involved in the killing of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh will be prosecuted,” Sisi added.
The president also emphasized the need for a state of law in which offenders can be brought to justice without destroying an entire institution in the process.
He went on to offer his condolences to the activist’s family, friends and everyone pained by her death.
But as investigations into Sabbagh’s death continue, it seems the path to justice in the case has already been fraught with obstacles.
Zohdy al-Shamy, the deputy head of the Popular Alliance Socialist Party, was briefly detained on Sunday on accusations of killing his colleague. He was released following international outcry, but the incident triggered a wave of doubts as to the fairness of the investigation process.