CAIRO, March 18- An Egyptian court jailed a police officer for 10 years Tuesday over the deaths of 37 Islamist prisoners, who suffocated from tear gas in a police van, a judicial source said.
The sentence was the toughest verdict yet against police since a deadly crackdown was launched on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.
The incident occurred when the tear gas was fired into the van as Islamists were being taken to a prison near Cairo on August 18.
Three other police officers linked to the case were each handed one year suspended sentences, the source said.
The four officers were sentenced for manslaughter after the prosecution’s investigation revealed that they were reckless and lacked prudence in dealing with the situation, the sources added.
The incident occurred during the peak of the crackdown against supporters of Morsi, who was ousted by the army last July.
The interior ministry said at the time that police fired tear gas when the inmates rioted as they were being transferred to Abu Zaabal prison.
The Islamist Anti-Coup Alliance, which is pressing for the reinstatement of Morsi, had accused police of killing the prisoners as they were being moved.
“They were reportedly assassinated in their truck with live ammunition and tear gas fired from windows,” the alliance said.
State news agency MENA had said trucks carrying more than 600 prisoners came under attack by armed men, and a “number of prisoners” were killed in ensuing clashes.
The verdict was passed after the court heard testimony from seven wounded prisoners.
The court also heard from a justice ministry expert, who said the vans used had a capacity of only 24 people, while they were packed with 45 that day.
The incident came just four days after security forces stormed two sit ins of Morsi supporters in Cairo in which hundreds were killed. Since then, security forces have been continued a crackdown on them.
Amnesty International says more than 1,400 people have been killed in the crackdown, and thousands arrested. It has repeatedly blamed the security forces for using excessive force against Islamist protesters.
Tuesday’s verdict may be appealed.