March 23, 2015
In Blog News
CAIRO — A poet and activist hit with a blast of birdshot from a police shotgun during a march to lay flowers in Tahrir Square in Cairo died because she was too thin, a spokesman for Egypt’s medical examiner said late Saturday.
The poet and activist, Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, was killed on Jan. 24, a day before the anniversary of Egypt’s Arab Spring revolt in 2011. Before the marchers could reach Tahrir Square, riot police officers blasted them with tear gas and birdshot at close range as photographers and cameramen watched. Their haunting images of Ms. Sabbagh dying in the arms of another marcher have made her a symbol of the epidemic of police abuse.
On Saturday, though, the spokesman for the Medical Forensics Authority said in a television interview that Ms. Sabbagh, 31, would not have died had she not been so slender.
“Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, according to science, should not have died,” the spokesman, Hisham Abdel Hamid, said, calling it “a very rare case.”
“Her body was like skin over bone, as they say,” he said. “She was very thin. She did not have any percentage of fat. So the small pellets penetrated very easily, and four or five out of all the pellets that penetrated her body — these four or five pellets were able to penetrate her heart and lungs, and these are the ones that caused her death.”
A chubbier person would have survived with only minor injuries, Mr. Abdel Hamid argued, noting that a man standing next to her was hit in the neck but nonetheless lived.
“Under his skin, he had layers of fat and I don’t know what else that were a bit thick, so he wasn’t penetrated,” Mr. Abdel Hamid said. “Praise the Lord, it was her time.”
He said that most of the pellets were concentrated in a 20-inch-wide area of her back but that two others hit the left side of her face. The blasts appeared to have been fired from a distance of about eight yards, he said.
Rights groups scoffed at the focus on Ms. Sabbagh’s weight. “These sorts of ridiculous claims just add a thick layer of absurdity to the government’s endless record of killings and impunity,” said Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch.
The images of Ms. Sabbagh’s killing resonated so widely that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi called for an investigation. Public prosecutors said recently that they had referred an unnamed police officer to trial on charges of battery leading to death — a form of manslaughter.