-Cairo - September 2010
The Egyptian city of Alexandria is bracing itself for a renewed outbreak of street protests tomorrow, as the trial of two policemen accused of beating a civilian to death in broad daylight finally gets under way.
Awad Suleiman and Mahmoud Salah are charged with illegal arrest and brutality following the death of 28-year-old Khaled Said in early June, an incident which sparked demonstrations throughout the country and has become a political flashpoint between the government and opposition activists.
Numerous witnesses claim that Said, who had earlier posted an online video of local police officers apparently dividing up the spoils of a drug haul, was attacked in an internet cafe by the two plainclothes officials who kicked and punched him before eventually smashing his head against a marble table-top. His body was dragged into a police car and later dumped by the roadside.
Graphic photos of Said's injuries circulated online and became a rallying cause for activists opposed to Egypt's 29-year-old emergency law, which suspends many basic civil liberties and provides effective immunity for the security services before the courts.
Cases of police abuse and torture have been exposed with increasing frequency in recent years, and the death of Said garnered extra attention after former UN nuclear watchdog chief and prominent dissident Mohamed ElBaradei joined protests against the killing.
Government officials initially said that Said was a wanted criminal and produced two state postmortems which concluded that he had died from swallowing a packet of narcotics hidden under his tongue. But following pressure from the US and the EU, as well as local and international human rights organisations, Suleiman and Salah were eventually arrested for brutality and will face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Said's family have called for the pair to face charges of murder and want to see the officers' superior in the dock as well, but so far their demands have been ignored.
"It's an important trial for Egypt, but with responsibility being limited to these two officers alone we're not optimistic that justice will be done," said Mohamed Abdelaziz, a lawyer with the anti-torture El-Nadeem centre who has been in close contact with Said's relatives.
The court case has struck a chord with the public in a country where police corruption and the unaccountability of security officials is a highly visible part of everyday life. "Khaled Said's death has caused public outrage in Egypt, which means that if the evidence is sufficient then it's very important a strong conviction is made," said Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch.
"There is a culture of impunity for police in torture cases, with officials quickly jumping to the defence of officers suspected of abusing their power and superiors not being held accountable. That has to change; the Khaled Said case has shown that it is possible for public pressure to override the initial instinct of the authorities to cover-up these incidents."