Alleged leak points to military interference in Abu Zaabal police trial

In the latest leaked audio recording allegedly detailing conversations between military leaders, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces member and deputy Defense Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Mamdouh Shahin, is heard assuring a high-ranking presidential aide that he will interfere in a civilian trial of several police officers.

In the audio recording aired on Saturday on Al-Sharq television station, which has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, Shahin is heard promising Abbas Kamel, head of the president’s office, that he will talk to the judge overseeing the trial. The case related to the deaths of 37 prisoners outside Abu Zaabal prison last year, who died in a police van while being transported from Abu Zaabal prison. Four policemen were being tried in the case.

Kamel refers to the case in the recording as “the case of the 30-something people” and then complains that the judge had refused to accept the witnesses requested by the four policemen on trial, who included the son of military general Abdel Fatah Helmy.

Shahin promises to talk to the judge, reassuring Kamel: “We’ll bring them [witnesses] for him, Sir.”

The incident occurred in August 2013, when 45 prisoners, mostly supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, were tear gassed inside an overcrowded police van, killing 37 of them. The story of the events that led to the firing of the tear gas in the van has been disputed. The official narrative is that the prisoners had kidnapped a police officer into the van, which led another member of the police force to fire tear gas into the van. Survivors speaking to The Guardian last year, however, describe the group having been trapped in the van for hours in the heat, to the point where most of the detainees had collapsed before the tear gas was fired.

The four officers prosecuted for manslaughter were given suspended prison sentences in March 2014 then the verdict was cancelled in a subsequent appeal session. The first session for the prosecution’s appeal of the acquittal is scheduled for January.

Shahin appeared in another leaked recording earlier this month. In a purported phone conversation between him and another SCAF member, Osama al-Gendy, Shahin is heard proposing forging legal procedures in the criminal case against Morsi, in order to cover up illegal procedures that could have lead to the dismissal of the case.

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