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Life for Mubarak following 'trial of the century'

Publish date: 05 June 2012
Issue Number: 481
Diary: Legalbrief Africa Old
Category: Egypt

In the first trial of a leader toppled in last year's Arab spring uprisings, a Cairo court this weekend sentenced fallen dictator Hosni Mubarak and his Interior Minister to life but acquitted their six security commanders on the same charges.

Legalbrief reports that the so-called 'trial of the century' saw the group facing charges of murdering some of the 850 people killed during the 18-day uprising that ousted Mubarak in February 2011. Mubarak is reported to have suffered a heart attack while being taken to prison after the verdict. The Sunday Times reports that he cried in protest and resisted leaving the helicopter that took him from the Cairo courtroom to a prison hospital for the first time. Since Mubarak was detained last April, he has been held in several different military hospitals but never in a prison hospital. Nile News, a state-owned news channel, said Mubarak suffered a heart attack while being transported to prison.

Mubarak's lawyers said that they would appeal against the sentence. But some criticised the court for being too lenient. Turkish Weekly reports that corruption charges against Mubarak's sons, Alaa and Gamal, were dropped because of the expiry of a statute of limitations, and the ex-President was acquitted in one of the graft cases. However, says the report, Alaa and Gamal Mubarak will stay in prison because they are on trial in another case. A report on the News24 site notes that they will face a new separate trial for alleged corrupt stock market dealings. The fresh charges stem from the sale of the Al Watany Bank of Egypt. Gamal headed a powerful policy committee in the ruling party under his father and was widely seen as the heir apparent, a perception that helped fuel the uprising, according to the report. Full Sunday Times report Full Turkish Weekly report Full report on the News24 site See also a Mail & Guardian Online report

Hundreds of protesters occupied Cairo's Tahrir Square in an effort to capitalise on popular anger following the trial. There were mass protests against what many see as lenient sentences handed down against the ex-president and security aides. BBC News reports that more than 100 people have been wounded in nationwide protests. The Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate, Mohamed Mursi, toured the square and called for 'the revolution to continue'. The report notes that some protesters have joined in chants of 'illegitimate' in reference to the verdicts delivered earlier. 'The Mubarak verdict mocks us. He and (former Interior Minister Habib) Adly got a sentence and their aides got nothing,' protester Sharif Ali is quoted in the report as saying. 'When they return to court on appeal, they will be freed too.' Full BBC News report

The trial - and subsequent protests - has raised tensions in the run-up to the final leg of Egypt's first free presidential election. The run-off on 16 and 17 June, the last stage in a chaotic transition from military to civilian rule, will pit Mubarak's last Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq, against Mursi, the candidate of the socially conservative Muslim Brotherhood. A report on the IoL site notes that suspicion is widespread that the military, led by Mubarak's old Defence Minister, will still wield heavy influence whoever becomes President. Egypt has been led by army officers since 1952, says the report which notes Shafiq is a former air force commander. Full report on the IoL site

Egypt's state of emergency, which gave security forces sweeping powers to detain suspects and try them in special courts, has ended after 31 years. It has been in place without interruption since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. The Times of India reports that ssince Sadat's assassination, the security forces have been empowered to detain and arrest people without charge, keep them locked up despite court releases and extract confessions under torture. Abuses almost always went unpunished. And at one point under the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak, human rights groups said there were more than 10 000 people in detention - many of them disappearing in Egyptian prisons, according to the report. It notes llifting the law was a key demand of activists in last year's uprising against Mubarak. Egypt's military rulers, who took charge after the ousting of Mubarak, indicated they would not renew the law. BBC News reports that some Egyptians had feared the country - preparing for a presidential election run-off - would be left in a power vacuum without the law, which expired at midnight on Thursday. The report notes that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) issued a statement to reassure the country that it will 'continue to carry its national responsibility in protecting the country until the transfer of power is over'. Full report in The Times of India Full BBC News report

US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner described the lifting of the emergency law as 'a step in the direction' towards democratic transition. 'At a very gloomy time, this is a slither of good news, because the human rights community has called for decades against the Emergency Law,' said Heba Morayef, the Cairo-based Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW). Egypt Independent reports that Magda Boutros, criminal justice director at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights described it as a historic day for people who have never lived in Egypt without the Emergency Law. 'For the first time in my lifetime, we can start hoping for the rule of law to be applied; there will be no more leeway for security agencies to arbitrarily arrest individuals,' Boutros is quoted in the report as saying. The Financial Times reports that critics say the law promoted a culture of impunity in the security services, which were never held accountable for human rights violations such as torture and extended detention without trial. 'The end of the emergency law is hugely significant on the symbolic level,' Morayef is quoted in the report as saying. 'If you think of the generation of the Tahrir Square activists (who overthrew Mubarak), none of them has known Egypt without the emergency law. Its expiry also means all detainees held under the law should be released immediately.'

Morayef said that the change may not have a big impact in practice, because the ruling military council has by-passed the emergency law and tried protestors in military tribunals that are widely recognised to fall below internationally acceptable standards for fair trials, according to the report. It says she also noted that while it will no longer be possible to try anyone before an emergency court, several cases already being heard by such tribunals will continue. These include the trial of protestors accused of invading the Israeli embassy in September. 'The people's assembly (parliament) should do something about these cases because the defendants will have no right of appeal,' Morayef said, according to the report. Full Egypt Independent report Full Financial Times report

A state of emergency can only be reinstated with the majority consent of Parliament, whose members are 75% Islamist. Egypt Independent reports that the Muslim Brotherhood and to a lesser extent Salafis were the primary targets of arbitrary police arrests under Mubarak, and so their motivation for reinstating it and giving wide powers to the Interior Ministry is slim. The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party paper ran a three-quarter page advertisement offering reassuring analysis that Egypt's security can still be maintained without the state of emergency in place. It explains that 99% of its use was mainly to suppress political opposition and freedom of expression, especially by Islamists, and the remaining 1% to tackle drugs-use and terrorism, though the latter was its stated purpose. Despite this victory, Parliament still needs to pass a law that will force the Interior Ministry to release all Emergency Law detainees, or refer them to prosecutors to be charged, and ask the public prosecutor to transfer all ESSC trials to regular civilian courts, said a statement released on 30 May by HRW and advocacy group Alkarama. Full Egypt Independent report