The judge trying Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak for the killing of protesters has ordered an end to televised live broadcasts of the trial until sentencing takes place, prompting criticism from those who opposed the Mr. Mubarak’s rule.
Many watching the trial from outside the court building, where scuffles between Mubarak loyalist and opponents took place during the session, called Judge Ahmed Refaat’s decision to stop the broadcasts “preposterous.”
“The case is necessary for public opinion,” Sherif Mohamed, an engineer watching the trial outside the court told Reuters. “Not airing it live means there is a deal with Mubarak,” he added.
Adly, along with Mr. Mubarak’s six top aides, faces charges of ordering the murder of demonstrators. If convicted, the penalty for that crime could end up with capital punishment.
The former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak had arrived in a hospital bed in a Cairo court on Monday to face charges over the killing protesters, the first Arab leader to stand trial in person since popular uprisings began sweeping the Middle East.
An aircraft landed near the court and shortly afterwards state TV showed Mr. Mubarak, aged 83 and wearing a navy blue sports sweater, being wheeled into the courtroom’s steel cage on a gurney.
The former president looked composed and stern, hands clasped over his chest, as he exchanged a few words with his sons, Alaa and Gamal, who are also on trial, according to Reuters.
Ahmed Refaat called Mubarak’s name and he answered, “Present.” Scores of lawyers then clamored for Refaat’s attention in chaotic scenes and Refaat appealed for calm, ordering them to sit down to allow proceedings to begin.
The hearing could decide if the head of the ruling military council will take the stand as a witness.
Defense lawyers say that any testimony by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi on Mr. Mubarak’s role in trying to suppress the 18-day uprising, in which about 850 people were killed, could decide the ex-president’s fate.
Mr. Tantawi, who was defense minister for two decades under Mr. Mubarak, heads the military council that took power when Mubarak was ousted on February 11 by the mass protests.
Clashes outside the court
Tension was running high outside the conference building in a Cairo suburb before the former president arrived, Reuters reported.
Hundreds of riot police stood guard but fist fights broke out between Mr. Mubarak’s supporters and a group demanding justice for those killed in the uprising. Both sides traded insults and some in the pro-Mubarak crowd threw rocks.
As Mr. Mubarak arrived, anti-Mubarak protesters outside shouted: “Judge wake up! Mubarak killed my brothers! Execute the killer!”
“He is Egyptian until death” and “Hosni Mubarak is not Saddam,” chanted his supporters, referring to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein who was put on trial after a US-led invasion and executed in 2006.
“I want people to read their history and know what this great man has done for us. He kept Egypt stable. He has been humiliated but he is weathering the storm with pride,” said Ehab Sameh, 30.
Ali, a police officer, said: “The silent majority are much more than those few pro-Mubarak folks. The silent majority wants justice for the years of corruption.”
Arab world leaders have long ruled for life and seldom been held to account. But Mr. Mubarak now stands accused of authorizing the use of live ammunition to quell protests, of corruption and abuse of power.
The charges against the former air force commander could carry the death penalty. He denied all accusations during the opening session, which was aired live and counted as his first public appearance since February 11.
Medical reports issued after Mr. Mubarak was taken to a hospital following initial questioning in April said he was suffering from heart problems, depression and fainting fits.
Refaat was expected to spend Monday’s session choosing names from a long list of witnesses demanded by lawyers, said legal expert Mahmoud Khoudeiry.
Asked if Mr. Tantawi could appear as a witness in the court, he said testimony from any army officer would be aired live unless there are specific security concerns.
Some in the crowd demanding swift justice for victims of the uprising held ropes tied in a noose and held up the two-finger victory sign.
“I don’t know any of the victims but when I saw their photos, I thought they could have been my children. I can’t stand the thought of young people dying,” said housewife Saidia Saeed, 41, according to Reuters.
More than 850 people were killed during the uprising and over 6,000 wounded when security forces fired live rounds, rubber bullets and used water cannon and batons against the protesters.
In the first court session, defense lawyers asked for Mr. Tantawi, former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and about 1,600 others to testify as witnesses.
“Tantawi’s testimony would help the court determine whether Mubarak gave orders to Interior Minister Habib Al Adly to fire at protesters or whether Adly was acting independently,” said a member of the defense team, who asked not to be named.
A judge on Sunday set the next hearing for Adly and six of his lieutenants for September 5.
Lawyers for the families of those killed have also demanded that Mr. Tantawi testify.
“It is important for the court to meet the requests of the defense team, especially the request to hear the accounts of Field Marshal Tantawi in court to determine whether Mubarak asked him to confront and fire at protesters or not,” the lawyer said.
“The defense team sees Tantawi as a compurgator, or a witness whose testimony would exonerate Mubarak. The plaintiffs’ lawyers, however, expect him to testify that he received orders to fire, which is necessary to convict Mubarak,” another lawyer handling the case said.
Evidence and witnesses
Ahmed Mekki, a recently retired deputy head of Cairo’s appeals court, said the trial will now move to investigating the evidence and calling witnesses, first for the prosecution and then for the defense, AFP reported.
But the court will probably cull the list of witnesses demanded by Mr. Deeb, which would provide him with solid ground for appealing a possible guilty verdict, said one of the lawyers representing victims in civil suits.
“If the court does not listen to all the witnesses, it will give grounds for appeal,” said Taher Abu Nasr, whose Front for the Defense of Egyptian Protesters represents 35 plaintiffs.
“There will be an appeal, and the appeal will be successful,” Mr. Abu Nasr said, according to AFP.
Legal experts say that a thorough investigation into Mr. Mubarak’s alleged crimes should have taken several more months, but the military and the government expedited the process to mollify protesters.
“The prosecution (filed the case) perhaps before questioning people they should have questioned,” said Mr. Abu Nasr.
“The case was filed under street pressure,” said Mr. Mekki, adding that he believed the court would still conduct the trial fairly.
“The prosecution may be amenable to pressure, but the court will not rule unjustly,” he said.
Essam Soltan, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said Judge Ahmed Refaat would ask lawyers to justify their request to summon Mr. Tantawi to testify before ruling on it.
The cases of the defendants are interlinked and each could accuse his superior of giving the orders to fire, thus weakening the case against the former president, Mr. Soltan said.
The military said officers called in by the judge to give their testimony would attend.
But a judicial source said that even if Mr. Tantawi were asked to testify, it would happen later in the trial to shield the army from taking the heat in the controversial case.
Mr. Tantawi’s military council has promised a transition to democracy in the Arab world’s most populous country--a process far from complete.