CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Thursday acquitted all 14 defendants, including policemen, accused of killing 17 protesters during the bloodiest day of a revolt that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak more than two years ago, judicial sources said.
The deaths in Suez City triggered violence across Egypt on what was later called "The Friday of Rage" — January 28 2011 — that fuelled an 18-day uprising against Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt for 30 years. The verdict could add to tensions in Egypt, which has been gripped by a political crisis since the army overthrew President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood on July 3, after mass protests against his rule.
It comes more than a month after the release of Mubarak from prison after he was acquitted of corruption. He still faces another charge of corruption and complicity in the killing of demonstrators during the protests that toppled him in 2011.
Like the acquittal of the 14 defendants, the release of Mubarak was seen by many as a sign that the military was rolling back the changes that arose from the uprising.
The Brotherhood and some human rights activists accuse the army-backed government of trying to bring back the old order, accusations that it denies.
The government accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of inciting violence and carrying out terrorist acts, charges that it in turn denies. Many of its leaders have been arrested.
The case is the latest in a series in which Mubarak-era officials were either acquitted or given light sentences, raising frustrations among opponents of the government and the old regime.
About 850 protesters were killed across the country during the 2011 revolution in the Arab world’s most populous country.
The 14 defendants in the Suez case — 10 police officers, a businessman and his three sons — were arrested in 2011, and have been accused of firing rounds at peaceful protesters.
"The Suez criminal court has acquitted all the defendants of charges of killing and attempting to kill demonstrators during the events of the January 25 revolution," a judicial source said.
The judge did not provide reasons for the verdict.
Police cleared the court after families of the victims broke down and screamed. Some fainted after hearing the verdict, a witness who attended the court session said.
"Today the blood of Egyptians has become cheap.
"The rulings that come out in Egypt are politicised," said a spokesman for the Suez victims’ families, Ali Gunaidi.
"There are no rulings in accordance with the laws but rather they are according to orders."
Meanwhile Egypt extended a state of emergency by two months yesterday, citing the security situation. Egypt has been gripped by political turmoil since the army overthrew Mr Mursi. A week ago the interior minister survived an assassination attempt in Cairo.
The government originally announced a one-month state of emergency on August 14 and yesterday’s announcement extended the order, which covers the whole country until mid November.