Reuters International

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian police officer was sentenced to seven years in jail and five other policemen to three years on Tuesday for beating to death a father of four, a case that has fuelled public anger about perceived police brutality.

Talaat Shabib al-Rashidi was one of at least three men who died in police custody in the space of a single week in November 2015, prompting riots in his southern home town of Luxor and rare media scrutiny of police methods.

The court acquitted three officers and seven conscripts and ordered the interior minister to pay Rashidi's wife 1.5 million Egyptian pounds ($168,921). The sentence can be appealed.

Human rights groups say police brutality is widespread in Egypt. They allege a culture of impunity in which police are rarely held to account over accusations of torture of suspects and have called for an independent body to investigate.

The interior ministry has said it would investigate all abuse allegations and prosecutors are questioning those involved in the recent deaths.

Public anger over allegations of police brutality has been bubbling over the past months, with several incidents spilling over into skirmishes and protests, five years after the ministry's officers were a major focus of a 2011 uprising.

An end to police brutality was one of the key demands of the uprising which ended Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. Unlike in the past, the families of those who have died in custody have been vocal in their demands for transparent investigations.

Prosecutors had ordered the trial in December after a coroners report found Rashidi had received blows to the back and neck that had broken vertebrae and severed his spine.

Rashidi was picked up by police at a cafe in Luxor and was dead within hours.

Police accused him of dealing in drugs. His family deny that and a cousin said they had been seeking redress days after Rashidi was involved in a public spat with a policeman.

They said Rashidi, in his 40s, worked in a tourist bazaar but had fallen on hard times as the 2011 uprising had hit tourism.

A riot erupted in a Cairo suburb in April when a policeman shot three people after an argument over the price of a cup of tea and killed one of them.

In February, a policeman shot dead a driver in the street in an argument over a fare, prompting hundreds to protest outside the Cairo security directorate.

(Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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 Reuters International