A key witness and defendant in the 2005 trial of Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nour was found hanged in his prison cell in Cairo on Thursday, security sources said.
Ayman Ismail Hassan, who at one stage in Nour's trial retracted his testimony against Nour, hanged himself with a sheet in the prison where he was serving a five-year sentence on a charge of forging documents, they added.
During the trial, Hassan said he had made up his testimony under pressure from state security police, who had threatened members of his family.
"I confessed to forgery under pressure from officers from state security," Hassan told reporters in June 2005, after his lawyer told the court he had changed his plea to not guilty.
The court disregarded his retraction and went on to sentence both Ayman Nour and Ayman Hassan to five years in prison.
Gameela Ismail, Nour's wife and a party official, said that Hassan, who was in his late 30s, was being held alongside prisoners who had been condemned to death and had complained to his family of mistreatment in prison.
"He kept telling them that he had important information to give to the public prosecutor," she told Reuters.
Amir Salem, the lawyer who defended Nour in the trial and who has been trying to secure his release on health grounds, told Reuters: "He (Hassan) was the only person taken alone and put in the Appeals prison (in central Cairo), and according to his family he complained constantly of ill treatment."
Hassan had already served almost two years of his sentence, plus months in pre-trial detention. Prisoners in Egypt typically leave jail after serving two thirds of their time.
Nour's wife said Hassan originally came to the party as a volunteer, offering to recruit members. He was a laborer and a bachelor who looked after his sisters and his nieces, she added.
Nour, 43, the most influential non-Islamist politician opposed to the Mubarak family, won 8 percent of the vote in the presidential elections of 2005, against 89 percent for Mubarak. Human rights groups say the elections were seriously flawed.
The charge against Nour was that the endorsements he submitted to the authorities when he set up his liberal Ghad (Tomorrow) Party in 2004 contained forged signatures.
Nour was sentenced on Dec. 24, 2005, and the Egyptian government has rejected repeated U.S. appeals for his release.
In his absence the liberal and secular party he founded has struggled to survive.
Political analysts said the government wanted him out of the way so that the Mubaraks can prepare for the installation of Mubarak's son Gamal, who is also 43, as the next president. Gamal denies having presidential ambitions.