By Mahmoud Mourad and Yara Bayoumy
CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian police officer was charged on Tuesday over the shooting of a young mother at a protest in central Cairo, weeks after a photograph of her bleeding to death went viral and caused an international outcry.
Shaimaa Sabbagh, 32, was shot in January at a march marking the anniversary of the uprising that ousted veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The public prosecutor said in a statement she was killed by an officer who fired birdshot to try to disperse the protest.
The prosecutor sent the case for trial in a criminal court, a rare action against a member of the security forces, on a charge of action that "led to the death of" Sabbagh - a lesser charge than murder.
Supporters said that was too lenient.
Fellow activist and lawyer Sayed Abu el-Ila, who was photographed with Sabbagh dying in his arms, told Reuters: "As a friend, a party colleague and a witness to the moment she was murdered, I say that Shaimaa was killed again today with the prosecution's decision."
But state news agency MENA quoted Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb as saying the decision proved no one was above the law.
"We will not allow anybody, whoever he is, to escape punishment, as long as he was proven guilty by the fair judiciary," he added.
Lawyers said that depending on which article of the penal code is applied to the unidentified officer, the sentence could range from three to 10 years.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, accused by critics of muzzling opponents, had responded to the fury over Sabbagh's killing by referring to her as "my daughter" and "the daughter of Egypt", and promised to bring her killers to justice.
The interior minister at the time of Sabbagh's death was sacked this month for unspecified reasons.
Many hoped Mubarak's fall would lead to greater freedom, but the government has cracked down hard on Islamists and secular activists since the army ousted Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2013.
Critics say the police, whose power waned as Mubarak fell, have made a comeback and now act with impunity, a charge the Interior Ministry denies. Nearly all the 100 policemen tried for killing protesters in the 2011 revolt were acquitted.
On Tuesday, the public prosecutor also charged 16 people, including members of the now outlawed Brotherhood, with killing and inciting violence in connection with the deaths of 19 soccer fans who clashed with security forces last month.
In another case, the prosecutor said an investigation into the death of an activist in 2013 showed he died as a result of a car accident, contradicting accounts by two security sources at the time that he was beaten unconscious in detention.
Critics say Sisi has returned Egypt to authoritarian rule on the pretext of clamping down on militants who have killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen since Mursi's ouster.
The government denies rights abuses and says the Brotherhood is a terrorist group that threatens national security. The movement says it is committed to peaceful activism.
(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy and Ali Abdelaty; Editing by Louise Ireland and Mark Trevelyan)