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Published: Tuesday March 18, 2014 MYT 7:55:02 PM
Updated: Tuesday March 18, 2014 MYT 7:55:57 PM

Egyptian court jails policeman linked to Islamist deaths

CAIRO (Reuters) - A Cairo court sentenced a police officer to 10 years in prison with labour on Tuesday in connection with the deaths of 37 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters last year, judicial sources and the state news agency said.

Three other policemen were given one-year suspended sentences, they said.

The Interior Ministry said at the time that the Islamists had died during an attempted prison break after being suffocated by tear gas. However, a legal source said the men had died from asphyxiation in the back of a crammed police van while they were being moved to a jail on the outskirts of Cairo.

The government has launched a widespread crackdown on the Brotherhood since the army toppled Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last July after mass protests against his rule.

The Islamist movement has accused the authorities of large-scale human rights abuses. The government has denied the allegations and declared the Brotherhood a terrorist group which poses a grave security threat to the most populous Arab nation.

The court sentenced Lieutenant Colonel Amr Farouk, deputy head of Heliopolis police station, to 10 years in jail with labour and three other policemen to one year suspended sentences on charges of involuntary manslaughter and extreme negligence.

Security forces have killed hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members in the streets, arrested thousands of others and put top leaders on trial since army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed the country's first freely-elected government.

The Brotherhood, which has an estimated 800,000 members, has gone underground but is unlikely to go away after surviving repression under one Egyptian autocrat after another.

Although neither side is showing flexibility just now, political analysts say reconciliation may be the only way to bring stability to Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal, a vital global shipping lane.

The Interior Ministry, which was dreaded under the rule of president Hosni Mubarak, has put itself squarely back in the centre of power after a period of relative uncertainty after he was toppled in an army-backed popular uprising in 2011.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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