Two Egyptian police officers sentenced to prison in activist's death

CAIRO — Two police officers on Monday were given 10-year prison terms in the killing of a young Egyptian activist whose gruesome death in 2010 galvanized outrage over police brutality and helped fuel the massive uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The sentences, handed down by a criminal court in the port city of Alexandria, followed a retrial of the two officers, who previously had been convicted and sentenced to shorter jail terms. That verdict was later overturned.

The victim, Khaled Said, was beaten to death in what witnesses described as a vicious attack by police. Before-and-after photographs — the first showing a handsome 28-year-old in life, the second a close-up of his corpse, rendered nearly unrecognizable by horrific facial and head injuries — were widely circulated on social media at the time, helping coalesce the anti-Mubarak movement.

The case came to symbolize the excesses of the Mubarak-era police state and the culture of impunity that had built up around the Egyptian security forces. It also thrust the corruption issue into the limelight; Said had reportedly been in possession of a video incriminating police in a theft.

Reaction to the verdict was mixed. Some supporters and family members had hoped for longer sentences for the two officers. “We were expecting the maximum sentence for the murderers,” Said’s sister Zahra wrote in a Facebook post.

State media had previously reported that the maximum sentence was 15 years.

Lawyers for the pair, Mahmoud Salah Mahmoud Ghazala and Awad Ismail Abdel Megued, said they would appeal, the state-owned Ahram website reported.

For many Egyptians, the case is a disheartening reminder of how little has changed in the three years since Mubarak’s fall. Human rights groups have sharply criticized the current military-backed government for condoning police brutality. At least 1,400 protesters, most of them supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, have been killed by police and soldiers since the interim government took over in July, according to estimates by human rights groups.

Those deaths include approximately 1,000 fatalities in the violent dispersal of protest camps set up by Morsi’s backers. That mid-August episode has been described by groups including Human Rights Watch as the largest unlawful mass killing in modern Egyptian history.

In the intervening months, some activists charged under a tough anti-protest law have received sentences nearly as long as those handed down against the police defendants on Monday. The anti-protest law was also invoked against demonstrators who rallied outside the court in Alexandria while the police officers were being tried.

Twitter: @laurakingLAT

Hassan is a special correspondent.

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