Egyptian court acquits 17 charged for protest at which activist killed

By Haitham Ahmed CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court on Saturday acquitted 17 people of violating a strict protest law earlier this year at a march commemorating a 2011 uprising, judicial sources said, a rare decision since Egypt introduced the statute in late 2013. The demonstration in January caught the world's attention after the death of 32-year-old protester Shaimaa Sabbagh was caught on video. The public prosecutor has separately charged a police officer who allegedly fired birdshot to try to disperse the protest in connection with Sabbagh's death. Defence lawyer Sayed Abu el-Ila, who was photographed with Sabbagh dying in his arms, told Reuters this was the first acquittal since the protest law came into force in 2013. The statute curtailed demonstrations, a regular feature of the turbulent years since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and has landed many leaders of that initial uprising behind bars. "I am not pleased by an acquittal at the expense of Shaimaa's blood," Abu el-Ila told reporters. "Shaimaa sacrificed her life to oppose an unjust law, and the law is still in place." President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has come under pressure over what critics perceive as heavy-handed security tactics since the army overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in mid-2013 following protests. A crackdown that began with the deaths of hundreds of Brotherhood supporters and the imprisonment of thousands more has expanded to include other activists. MURSI ON TRIAL AGAIN A separate court on Saturday began a trial of Mursi and 25 others on charges of insulting the judiciary. The defendants include Brotherhood leaders as well as television host Tawfiq Okasha and liberals Alaa Abdel Fattah and Amr Hamzawy. Mursi was sentenced to 20 years in prison last month on charges arising from the killing of protesters and faces the death penalty in connection with a mass jail break in 2011. He has denounced the legal proceedings against him. Separately, the public prosecutor referred 61 alleged Brotherhood members from the Delta province of Damietta to a military prosecutor on suspicion of violence-related offences. Egypt expanded the jurisdiction of military courts last year to permit them to try civilians accused of acts ranging from attacking state facilities to blocking roads, part of a broad crackdown on opponents. The government has banned the Brotherhood and labelled it a terrorist organisation, accusing it of killing hundreds of police and soldiers in the past two years. The Brotherhood denies any link to violence. ($1 = 7.6250 Egyptian pounds)