An Egyptian court on Tuesday gave suspended one-year sentences to 11 policemen accused of killing 22 protesters and wounding 44 others during last year's uprising that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.
Judge Sabri Hamed acquitted three other policemen at a court hearing in Cairo held under tight security. Families of the dead protesters rejected the verdict and vowed revenge.
"Death to the murderers!" they chanted.
In his ruling, Sabri said the defendants had a legitimate right to self defense when a mob pelted their station with rocks and firebombs, but they used excessive force in dealing with the threat, since those killed included some in homes a distance away.
The verdict is the latest in what activists claim to be a pattern of acquittals and light sentences for police blamed for the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the 18-day uprising. The suspended sentences mean the 11 convicted Tuesday will not go to prison.
The ruling, carried by the official news agency MENA, said the crowd outside the police station in Cairo's Hadayeq el-Qoubah district were genuine protesters, but they were later infiltrated by a "misled minority" that attacked the police.
The killings took place on Jan. 28, 2011, the deadliest day of the uprising. On the same day, thousands of convicts escaped from prisons across the nation, and scores of police station were ransacked. The attackers made off with firearms and ammunition.
Sabri said the police at Hadayeq el-Qoubah station could not request backup because of the chaos everywhere in the city, and that it would have been "cowardly" if they were to surrender to their attackers.
"The right of self defense here is legitimate, but the defendants exceeded that right with good intentions," Sabri said. "This is shown by the use of so much ammunition and the large number of killed and wounded. Their gunfire killed and wounded many persons far from the station and inside homes and buildings facing it. That amounts to exceeding the boundaries of legitimate self defense."
Seeking justice for the nearly 900 protesters killed during the uprising and at least 100 more since Mubarak's ouster has been a key demand of the protest movement that engineered the uprising. Activists also want the generals who took over from Mubarak to be held accountable for torturing detainees and hauling at least 10,000 civilians for trial before military tribunals.
The generals have promised to hand over power to a civilian administration after presidential elections in May. The winner will be declared June 21. Behind the scenes, the generals are thought to be trying to secure immunity from prosecution for alleged crimes during their rule.