Egyptian Trial Sheds Light On Police Brutality

Two Egyptian policemen charged with brutality in the death of a young Alexandria man went on trial Tuesday, in a case that activists hope will shed light on rampant police abuses in the country.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

To Egypt now, and a trial that activists and government critics hope will end what they see as a deeply rooted culture of police brutality. The case opened today in the northern port city of Alexandria.

But as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports, the noisy proceedings were cut short almost as soon as they began.

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SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: The three-judge panel called it a day less than an hour after the trial against two plainclothes policemen accused in the death of Khaled Said began here in Alexandria. Awad Suleiman and Mahmoud Salahheddin are charged with illegal arrest and use of excessive force, for which they face up to 15 years in prison. But many Egyptians, including the family of the victim, say the men and their superiors should be charged with murder.

Witnesses say the two dragged Said away from an Internet cafe here on June 6th, after he refused to show them his ID. The witnesses say they saw the officers repeatedly slam the 28-year-old's head into nearby stone steps until he was dead. But the government claims Said choked to death on a packet of marijuana.

M: (Speaking foreign language)

SARHADDI NELSON: The officers' lawyer, Alaa Gad, says his clients had gone to arrest Said, for whom they had a warrant. The judges say their decision to delay the proceeding until September 25th was out of deference to a request from lawyers for the victim's family.

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SARHADDI NELSON: But it is clear authorities were also concerned the trial might be overrun. The chants of angry protesters scuffling with tense, black-clad riot policemen could be heard through the courtroom windows.

(SOUNDBITE OF COURTROOM)

SARHADDI NELSON: Frustrated observers in the courthouse also jostled with police, who refused to let them inside the already packed and sweltering courtroom.

(SOUNDBITE OF COURTROOM)

SARHADDI NELSON: Inside the courtroom, the two accused officers, dressed in white prison uniforms, watched from behind bars of a large cage as their lawyer, and one for the victim's family, offered a flurry of evidentiary motions.

(SOUNDBITE OF COURTROOM)

SARHADDI NELSON: The victim's uncle, Dr. Ali Kassem, who attended the trial, says he feels sorry for the two men.

SARHADDI NELSON: (Through translator) They were thrown in here as sacrificial lambs by their superiors, who are more responsible because they allowed the two to act with impunity and kill my nephew.

SARHADDI NELSON: Kassem adds, there won't be justice for his nephew - or any other Egyptian - until their government strips the police of its unchecked power.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, in Alexandria, Egypt.

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