Egypt will try ex-President Mubarak in protesters' deaths

McClatchy NewspapersMay 24, 2011 

CAIRO — Deposed President Hosni Mubarak will stand trial on charges related to the shooting deaths of protesters during the country's 18-day revolt, Egypt's prosecutor-general announced Tuesday. The charges could carry the death penalty.

Mubarak, 83, his sons, Gamal and Alaa, and a close business associate, Hussein Salem, also will face charges that they abused their power to amass wealth, the prosecutor-general said.

The charges were announced just days before thousands of demonstrators were expected to rally in downtown Cairo to demand, among other things, tougher action against the Mubaraks, and some activists said the announcement was intended to quash momentum for the protest, which organizers had hoped would draw as many as a million participants.

State media reported that Mubarak remains hospitalized; his two sons are among a slew of former regime officials who await prosecution in a notorious Cairo prison.

No dates were announced for the trials, which will be before a civilian criminal court. The prosecutor-general also offered no details of the specifics of the case against Mubarak in the shootings. The Associated Press quoted a spokesman for the prosecutor, Adel el Said, as saying that Mubarak and "some police chiefs" face charges in the killings.

Whether the announcement of the criminal charges would dampen enthusiasm for Friday's protest was uncertain. In addition to prosecution of the Mubaraks, activists want an end to the country's decades-old emergency law, the dissolution of municipal councils and the creation of an advisory panel to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The council, which has run Egypt since Mubarak stepped down Feb. 11, has been accused of improperly prosecuting protesters in military courts.

Refaat Ahmad, 24, a co-founder of a community development nonprofit group, said he still planned to attend the rally.

"The more we pressure, the more they offer scapegoats and put more corrupt figures to trial," Ahmad said, referring to the ruling generals. "The more we pressure them, the more demands they try to fulfill, so we'll keep following that tactic."

Activists have complained of a slow pace of prosecutions against the Mubaraks and former regime officials, especially as civilian protesters have received prison terms after speedy military trials.

Federal prosecutors have countered that building such a historic case takes time, with such obstacles as tracking down bank accounts all over the world. In what seems to be another gesture to quell the anger over the court process, the government released all but a handful of activists who were detained from recent protests in Tahrir Square and outside the Israeli Embassy.

Activists said that speedy, transparent trials of former regime officials would do wonders for restoring public faith in the judicial branch, which had exercised virtually no independence under Mubarak. So far, the only conviction of a major regime figure has come in the case of the widely detested former interior minister, Habib el Adly, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption.

Egyptians, however, are more concerned with the charges Adly still faces: ordering the killings of protesters as the head of the nation's feared police and security apparatus. His next court date is June 26.

Analysts marveled at the likely impact on Egypt of seeing a former president, wearing a prison uniform, standing before a judge in a courtroom.

"We never had any laws questioning governors or ministers, so now to see the president put to criminal trial is a sign the country is taking steps forward, and that confidence will start building between the people and the supreme council," said Filiopater Gamil, a priest at a church in Giza and the general organizer of recent demonstrations by Egypt's Coptic Christian minority.

At least 846 people died in the Egyptian uprising, and more than 6,400 were injured, many of them permanently, according to a government fact-finding committee.

On Sunday, a criminal court sentenced a police officer to death for killing 20 protesters and wounding another 15 on Jan. 28, one of the bloodiest days of the revolution. That sentence was handed down in absentia; authorities still haven't tracked down Mohamed Mahmoud Abdelmoneim, the convicted officer.

Also this month, revolutionary groups were outraged by news that Mubarak's wife, Suzanne, would receive immunity from prosecution in exchange for handing over two bank accounts and a villa in Cairo. The former first lady's bank accounts contained more than $3 million, according to state media. Protesters dismissed that sum as pennies compared with the tens of millions they suspect were embezzled throughout Mubarak's three decades in power.

Suzanne Mubarak, 70, agreed to sign over the accounts after she was ordered into a 15-day detention for questioning on accusations that she sought unlawful personal gain from her husband's position. There was no update on negotiations for her immunity; government spokesmen couldn't be reached for comment.

Amnesty International, the international human rights advocacy group, praised the military council Tuesday for announcing the prosecution of the Mubaraks, saying in a statement that "the trial must offer the victims and their families the chance to confront the defendants and get answers."

Last week, Amnesty released a detailed report on the use of excessive force by state security forces to suppress protests during the uprising. The group interviewed hundreds of witnesses, victims and their families to compile dozens of examples of arbitrary detention, abuse and lethal force.

One chilling account in the report describes how an 18-year-old protester was forced "to undress while still blindfolded, had his feet tied, was handcuffed and was then suspended by a rope upside down. His head was submerged in a barrel of water and he was given electric shocks. He was ordered to confess that he had been trained by Israel or Iran."

(McClatchy special correspondent Mohannad Sabry contributed to this article from Cairo.)

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