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Egyptian Police Officer Gets Life Term for Killing in Dispute Over Tea

CAIRO — An Egyptian criminal court sentenced a police officer to life in prison on Wednesday for fatally shooting a man who refused to give him a free cup of tea. It was an unusual move by a court in a country where the police are generally allowed to act with impunity, human rights activists said.

The shooting in April, in which the tea vendor was killed and two other people were wounded, set off protests in Cairo.

The sentence, which is subject to appeal, was a rare punitive response to police violence in Egypt, where “the vast majority of incidents in which security force have used excessive force have gone without investigation,” said Nicholas Pichaud, an Egypt researcher at Amnesty International.

Also on Wednesday, the Egyptian authorities paved the way for a former prime minister who fled the country to return, removing his name from a watch list, his lawyer said.

The former prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, who was also a general and presidential candidate, faced various corruption charges, but on Wednesday, his lawyer, Dina Adly, was informed that the main case against him had been closed and that other complaints had been dismissed in response to legal motions filed on his behalf.

Facing the prospect of corruption investigations, Mr. Shafik fled in 2012, two days after he was defeated in the presidential election by Mohamed Morsi. He eventually settled in the United Arab Emirates.

After Mr. Morsi was ousted by Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, Mr. Shafik shifted his attention to the new leader, criticizing Mr. Sisi’s political and diplomatic actions.

Ms. Adly said she did not know when Mr. Shafik might return to Egypt. The government had no comment on the case.

While some analysts suggested that Mr. Shafik might pose a modest political challenge to Mr. Sisi, others said it was unclear what role, if any, he would have if he returned.

“If he was seen as a threat, he would not have been allowed in,” said Mustapha K. El Sayyid, a political science professor at Cairo University. “They would have figured out a way to stop him.”

Egypt’s government has been grappling with soaring inflation, a plunging currency and shortages of basic goods. To secure a $12 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and stave off economic collapse, the government was forced to make significant economic changes, including letting the currency trade freely and reducing energy subsidies.

But amid the turmoil, the government has not loosened its grip on political and social freedoms. On Tuesday, Parliament approved a bill that would tighten regulations governing the work of nongovernmental organizations in ways that could effectively ban their work.

If the bill receives final approval, the restrictions will mean “the legal death of independent civil society and human rights groups in Egypt,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. “It should dispel any illusion that Egypt’s government intends to allow the kind of open society that international allies and donors seem to expect.”

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