Egypt police brutality trial starts

The trial for two Egyptian policemen charged with brutality in the death of an activist started Tuesday.
Egyptian police stand in front of a crowd protesting the police brutality trial taking place in Alexandria Tuesday. ((Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters))

The trial for two Egyptian policemen charged with brutality in the death of an activist started Tuesday in a case that has sparked calls to end rampant police abuses in the country.

Hundreds of riot police cordoned off the court building in Alexandria while dozens of human rights activists protested outside, waving pictures of Khaled Said.

Police used their batons to keep the crowd at bay and there was pushing and shoving, but no significant violence was reported from the scene.

The defendants' families held a parallel rally nearby to denounce the activists' campaigning in defence of an alleged drug dealer.

Said died June 6 and witnesses said the two policemen dragged him out of an internet cafe in the northern port city and beat him to death. However, two state autopsies concluded Said died of suffocation after swallowing a packet of drugs.

The charges against the two officers, Mahmoud Salah and Awad Ismail Suleiman, include illegal arrest and brutality.

After brief hearings Tuesday, the judge at the Alexandria Criminal Court adjourned the trial until Sept. 25.

Hafez Abu Seda, president of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights, said the suspects should be punished for "torture rather than ill treatment, because there is a huge difference."

Amnesty International expressed concern Monday that witnesses in the trial could be harassed and urged the government to ensure their safety.

Activists maintain that Said's death was in retaliation for his embarrassing the police in an internet posting. Rights groups have long said Egyptian police regularly abuse and torture people in detention and are rarely held accountable, a claim denied by the government.