Policeman sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting tea vendor

A policeman was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday after a court in New Cairo found him guilty of fatally shooting a tea vendor back in April.

The court found Sayyed Zeinhom guilty of shooting dead Mostafa Mohamed with the firearm he had in his possession, along with the wounding of two passersby by in the Cairo suburb of Rehab City. According to a statement published by the Ministry of Interior, the killing occurred after Zeinhom refused to pay the price the vendor set for the beverage.

The incident was one of a string of shootings of civilians at the hands of police this year.

In February, policeman Mostafa Abdel Hassieb shot dead a taxi driver in Cairo’s low-income district of Darb al-Ahmar following a dispute over the fare. This resulted in Abdel Hassieb’s beating and hospitalization, and a wave of popular protests in Darb al-Ahmar. Abdel Hassieb was sentenced to life imprisonment in April.

In August a policeman shot dead a microbus driver in the south-east Cairo district of Maadi after his colleague’s vehicle collided with the microbus. This incident sparked a microbus drivers strike in Maadi. In response, the Ministry of Interior issued a statement claiming that the policeman had merely fired “a warning shot in the air from the gun in his possession, which resulted in the accidental death of the driver.” He is currently standing trial.

“These shootings are not merely recurring incidents, these are systematic violations of civilians’ rights,” lawyer Karim Abdel Radi of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information told Mada Masr. “The first thing the Ministry of Interior does in these incidents is that it issues statements to justify the violence and defend the actions of its personnel. These statements are usually issued without even preliminary investigations.”

Radi commented that Wednesday’s sentence is “a good court verdict,” but pointed out that often police personnel responsible for killing civilians are sentenced before courts of first instance, or primary courts, in order to allay public opinion, but then acquitted before an appeals court.

According to the lawyer, it is a rare occurrence that a police officer, as opposed to ordinary policemen, is sent to prison for injuring or killing civilians. “Moreover, most of the dirty work, including shootings, torture, killings, etcetera, is committed by policemen who are often acting upon the orders of their officers,” he added.

Radi said various things are needed to end systematic police violations: political will, which he said is lacking in Egypt at this time, respect for the rule of law, and training. Were the Ministry of Interior to properly store and control firearms, he added, police personnel would not constantly be in possession of deadly weapons, and thus be less prone to using them needlessly in disagreements and ordinary scuffles.

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