CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court on Tuesday cleared a former security officer charged with torturing to death an Islamist detainee suspected of bombing a church in Alexandria shortly before the 2011 uprising.
The verdict is the latest in a series of cases highlighting growing concerns over police brutality and impunity amid a crackdown by Egyptian security forces on political dissent.
The officer, Hossam al-Shenawy, was accused of using violence to extract a confession from Sayyid Bilal, a follower of the puritan Salafi approach to Islam.
Bilal died in custody and it later transpired that he was not involved in the attack on the church which killed more than 20 people on New Year’s Eve.
Shenawy was one of four policemen who had previously been sentenced to life in absentia over the death of Bilal and the torture of other Salafis rounded up after the bombing.
Two of those policemen handed themselves in and were later acquitted. A third handed himself in and was given a 15-year jail sentence.
At a hearing on Tuesday, amid tight security and in the absence of journalists and relatives of Bilal, the Alexandria Criminal Court overturned Shenawy’s prison sentence.
Anger over police brutality helped fuel the mass uprising that began less than a month after the church bombing and culminated with the end of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
The issue has returned to the spotlight in recent weeks, with Egyptian doctors protesting over an incident in which they allege police beat medical professionals at a Cairo hospital.
The torture and death of an Italian student in Egypt also prompted academics and rights groups to demand that investigators look at the possibility that he was detained.
The Egyptian Interior Ministry denies accusations by human rights groups that police brutality is endemic in Egypt and says it investigates what it describes as isolated incidents.