CAIRO An Egyptian criminal court sentenced a police officer to death in absentia Sunday for killing protesters, the first such ruling to be passed since pro-democracy demonstrators ousted Hosni Mubarak on February 11.
The sentence raised the stakes for other security officials charged with having a role in killing protesters, including the former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli, who has already been sentenced to 12 years in prison for graft.
The Cairo court convicted police officer Mohamed Abdel-Monem of killing 20 protesters and wounding 15 others on January 28, a judicial source said, in one of the bloodiest episodes of the 18-day uprising that unseated President Mubarak.
The court referred the case to the Grand Mufti, Egypt's religious authority who must approve all death sentences.
The sentence against Abdel-Monem, who has evaded capture, would be confirmed on June 26 pending the Mufti's approval.
More than 800 people died in the revolt after police fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, water cannon and tear gas at protesters who took to the streets on January 25. Days later, the police lost control and were withdrawn. The army was sent in.
Egyptians have been closely watching the fate of Adli, reviled for the heavy-handed tactics of police who crushed the smallest protest for years and rounded up Islamists without charge. Rights groups say torture in jail was routine.
His latest appearance in court was disrupted by scuffles on Saturday between lawyers and security officers.
A newspaper reported that family members of those who died in protests crushed however small over the years held up a symbolic hangman's noose for the former minister outside the court room, from which they were barred due to overcrowding.
A lawyer on the committee that charged Adli with murder has called for the death sentence for the former minister.
A prosecutor had accused Abdel-Monem of killing protesters by opening fire randomly in front of a police station to prevent them from breaking in, the state news agency reported.
(Writing by Sarah Mikhail; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich)