/ 5 September 2011

Mubarak trial marred by chaos, clashes and acrimony

Mubarak Trial Marred By Chaos

Supporters and opponents of Hosni Mubarak clashed on Monday outside a Cairo courtroom which heard the first witnesses in the former Egyptian president’s trial over his deadly suppression of protests earlier this year.

With television cameras banned inside, lawyers also bickered in the heavily-guarded courtroom where Mubarak (83) was brought in on a stretcher for the third hearing of his trial which opened on August 3.

Egypt’s former strongman is accused of involvement in the killings of hundreds of anti-regime activists during the 18-day revolt which in February ended his three decades in power, as well as corruption.

His two sons Alaa and Gamal, former interior minister Habib al-Adly and other police officials are also on trial. They have all pleaded not guilty.

Monday’s session heard the first witnesses to try to determine who gave the orders for the shooting of protesters during the January-February revolution.

Caged again
The hearing itself was held off-camera unlike the first two sessions which saw Mubarak appearing in court bound to a stretcher and caged, in gripping images broadcast live on television.

Footage on state television showed Mubarak arriving for the hearing at the police academy in Cairo’s outer suburbs in an ambulance on a stretcher, after a helicopter flew him in from hospital.

Before he drew up under heavy security, demonstrators clashed near the courtroom.

“We have not abandoned you,” pro-Mubarak protesters chanted, while their rivals, including family members of victims of the deadly uprising, shouted, “Punishment, punishment, they killed our children with bullets.”

The Mena state news agency reported that a dozen people were injured in the scuffles, and police made about 20 arrests.

Victims’ families clash with police
Anti-riot policemen also clashed with family members of victims of the uprising that ousted Mubarak’s autocratic regime, as law enforcement agents tried to prevent them from crashing the gates to the courtroom.

Inside the police academy in a north Cairo suburb where the trial is being held, the mood was charged particularly when a defence lawyer raised a picture of Mubarak, prompting the wrath of representatives of the victims.

The decision to stop the live television broadcast was taken by trial judge Ahmed Refaat, who was apparently exasperated by the charged atmosphere at the last hearing as an army of lawyers jostled for position.

After two sessions last month, the court on Monday heard the first witness, Hussein Saeed Mursi who headed the anti-riot police’s communications department at the time of the uprising. Other witnesses were due to testify.

First witness
Mursi told the court that at the onset of the protests he heard police generals discussing the dispatch of automatic weapons to quell the anti-regime demonstrations.

But he stressed he was not aware that any formal instructions had been given for the use of such weapons. “I heard officers say that these weapons had been used,” Mursi said.

Police officials also discussed the use of ambulances to carry “weapons and ammunition because police vehicles were being attacked” by protesters, he added.

Mubarak could face the death penalty if found guilty of involvement in the killings.

More than 850 people were killed in the revolt which led to Mubarak’s ouster after three decades in power and thousands more were wounded, according to official figures.

Al-Ahram government newspaper said four witnesses — police officials — were due to be heard by the court on Monday.

The court would investigate whether the orders to fire on the crowd were given solely by the interior ministry or if Mubarak was also implicated.

A nation entranced
Mubarak’s first dramatic appearance in court on August 3 came as a shock to Egyptians who were glued to watching the proceedings on television, never having believed he would be forced to go on trial.

His sons Gamal and Alaa are being tried for corruption along with Mubarak.

The former president, who suffers from heart problems and depression, is in custody in a hospital near Cairo, while reports that he was also suffering from cancer have been denied.

His sons are being held in the Tora prison complex on the southern outskirts of Cairo.

A wealthy businessman close to the former presidential clan, Hussein Salem, is being tried in absentia in the same trial. — Sapa-AFP