The Cairo Criminal Court sentenced six men to seven years in prison on Sunday for beating French citizen Eric Lang to death in Cairo’s Qasr al-Nil Police Station nearly three years ago. Lang and the six other men were in police custody at the time of his death.
Prison officials have not been charged in connection with the case.
Lang’s death has caused some diplomatic tension between Egypt and France. During a state visit in April, French President Francois Hollande confirmed that he had discussed the case with his Egyptian counterpart, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Lang was arrested on September 6, 2013, a time when Cairo was under curfew and emergency law following the security crackdown on protesters supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi in Rabea al-Adaweya and Nahda squares. He died on September 13, his body bearing signs of a severe beating.
The circumstances of Lang’s detention and death remain murky. According to human rights lawyer Amr Hassan, Lang was arrested on September 6 from Abul Feda Street in Zamalek and charged with public drunkenness. He had a bottle of alcohol in his possession at the time, Hassan added, but a forensic report seen by Mada Masr showed that alcohol was not detected in Lang’s system.
Lang was taken to the Qasr al-Nil Police Station and his case was immediately referred to the prosecutor, who ordered Lang’s release on September 7, Hassan told Mada Masr.
Police continued to hold Lang despite the release order. According to Hassan, the station’s chief investigator said Lang was not immediately released because the police were waiting for confirmation from the National Security Agency and the passport police that Lang was legally residing in Egypt. Lang, 49, had lived in Cairo for several years before his death.
Lang was initially held in a cell for foreign detainees, but was moved twice on September 12, both times into general population cells, presumably because of problems with cellmates, Hassan said. He was found dead the following day. Both French and Egyptian autopsies indicated that Lang had been beaten.
Raphaël Kempf, a French lawyer representing the Lang family, said documents from the official investigation into Lang’s death included confessions from fellow inmates to carrying out the beating, but no indication that prison officials had been questioned.
“With regards to the role of the police, their responsibility for allowing what happened with the other inmates, we know nothing,” he told Mada Masr in an interview at his Paris office. “Did the police encourage it? Why was he detained in the first place?”
An official request has been sent to allow French officials to carry out an onsite investigation, as happened with the Giulio Regeni case. So far, there has been no response from the government, Kempf said.
Hassan and a fellow rights lawyer have filed a separate complaint against the Ministry of Interior, the head of the Qasr al-Nil Police Station and the Cairo Security Directorate.
“Officials have a responsibility to protect the lives of people in their custody,” Hassan argued.
That complaint has been referred to the prosecutor, but there have been no further indications of progress, or of any other investigations into police culpability, Hassan said. He fears Sunday’s verdict will discourage prosecutors from following up with the complaint against police.
Lang’s family has complained that they feel his case has been forgotten. “Nothing has moved,” Eric’s sister Karine Lang told French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur in a February interview. “I have the feeling that nobody cares at all. It has been dropped from all sides.”