An Egyptian court jailed two policemen on Wednesday for seven years for their “cruel” treatment of an activist whose death helped kindle the popular revolt against Hosni Mubarak.
Khaled Said, 28, died in the port city of Alexandria in June last year after two plainclothes police dragged him out of an Internet cafe and beat him, witnesses and rights groups say. Authorities said he died choking on drugs.
“The court sentences the defendants to seven years in jail for using cruelty against the victim,” Judge Moussa al-Nahrawy said in a statement read out in court at the end of a case that began before the uprising erupted.
In the courtroom, families of the two policemen shouted angrily at the judge over guilty verdict, while activists and Said’s family complained the two police had got off lightly.
“Inside the court, the military police locked the doors of the court and the families of the two defendants literally beat up four lawyers in protest. Justice has not been done to Khaled Said and we will not budge,” Said’s uncle Ali Qassem told Reuters, adding he had expected a tougher sentence.
“The response to the verdict will be on the street and not inside the court,” he added.
Before he died Said posted an Internet video purportedly showing two policemen sharing the spoils of a drug bust. His death became a rallying cry for activists behind the Jan. 25 uprising that culminated with Mubarak’s ouster on Feb. 11.
A Facebook site was set up named “We are all Khaled Said.” It led calls for a demonstration on Jan. 25 and had organized silent protests demanding an end to police corruption and brutality in the months before.
After the sentence, activists on the Internet said the ruling could fuel more public anger on the streets. One of the activists who set up the Khaled Said website said he would not comment until he had consulted lawyers.
“So Khaled Said’s trial is over? We have given the judiciary its chance, so prepare yourselves now for the next revolution that will bring back Khaled Said’s rights,” wrote Tarek on Twitter, a site used to devastating effect against Mubarak.
One person commenting on the Khalid Said Facebook page wrote: “A shameful verdict! 28th of October is the next revolution!” ̶ referring to Friday, a day on which protesters often take to the streets.
Mahmoud Afifi, a spokesman for the April 6 Youth movement which helped lead the uprising, also criticized the verdict.
“This verdict allows for this sort of thing to happen again because it is not a deterrent, and it is not acceptable to us and to the entire Egyptian society,” he said.
Government autopsies carried out before the uprising found that Said had choked on a plastic roll of drugs and his injuries were not the cause of his death.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has said there was evidence that two plainclothes policemen killed Said and the state had failed to explain signs of beatings on his body.
A lawyer acting for Said’s family, Rafaat Nawar, said they planned to challenge the verdict and to push for a conviction for premeditated murder.