A court has upheld the death sentences of 21 people found guilty of causing Egypt’s worst ever football riot at a match in Port Said in February 2012, sparking renewed unrest.
Thousands of football fans took to Cairo’s streets in protest, before setting fire to the football federation headquarters. In Port Said, residents tried to block the canal and attacked the football stadium.
In an unrelated protest in Cairo, a man died of teargas inhalation during a confrontation between police and anti-government demonstrators.
The court in Cairo also announced verdicts on Saturday for the other 52 defendants in the case, with 24 being sentenced to jail, including two senior police officers who received 15 years. The remaining 28 were acquitted, including seven police officers.
Police in Port Said retreated to their stations, fearing for their lives after weeks of violent clashes with supporters of the local football team, al-Masry. More than 50 people have died and hundreds more have been injured in the Mediterranean city during protests against the trial over the past month.
The sentences, broadcast live on television, were met with howls of protest from Port Said residents. Many felt their friends had been convicted for nothing.
“Twenty-five years for someone helping to carry the dead outside the stadium,” said Mohamed Ataya, a football fan describing the case of his friend, convicted on Saturday. “What we need now is to separate from the rest of the country,” he said, voicing the sense of estrangement from the rest of Egypt that is felt by many in Port Said.
Hundreds gathered outside the local government headquarters after the verdict carrying flags that called for an independent republic of Port Said.
Residents said they felt scapegoated by both the verdict and the military curfew enforced in the city since violence erupted in January when the death sentences were first announced.
Some protesters dragged a donkey through the streets daubed with the words “Fuck Ahly” – a reference to the Cairo-based fans of al-Ahly FC, whom al-Masry supporters claim were favoured in Saturday’s verdict. Many in Port Said feel those sentenced to death were framed by police whom they believed favoured the al-Ahly fans.
But in Cairo, al-Ahly fans were also angered by the verdict. They initially set off fireworks in celebration that more Port Said supporters had been convicted. But sourness set in as they realised that only two of the nine police officers had been convicted.
In both Cairo and Port Said, many believe the February 2012 riots, in which 74 people were killed, were provoked by police. They began after al-Masry fans invaded the pitch and attacked al-Ahly supporters during a match between the two teams. Police stepped back from the trouble and turned off the stadium’s electricity. In the darkness, fans were crushed at locked doors.
On Friday, two protesters were buried in back-to-back funerals after allegedly being shot by police. There are multiple reports from human rights activists and local campaigners of police firing indiscriminately at Port Said residents over the past few weeks.
But police holed up in the al-Sharq police station denied responsibility, blaming the deaths on criminals taking advantage of the chaos. “There are a lot of thugs beside the demonstrators,” said Mohamed el-Adawy, the station’s deputy commander. “Maybe they shot them by accident.”
The case has highlighted worsening law and order in much of Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown two years ago.
The government of President Mohamed Morsi is struggling to halt the slide in security, hampered by a strike by some police in protests that are likely to be further fuelled by Saturday’s jail sentences for the senior officers.
Egyptian court confirms death sentences for Port Said football rioters – The Guardian
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