x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Mubarak back in the defendants' cage as trial resumes

Trial of Hosni Mubarak resumes after a three-month break, with the ousted Egyptian leader returning to a Cairo courtroom to face charges of complicity in the killing of more than 800 protesters.

CAIRO // The trial of Hosni Mubarak resumed yesterday after a three-month break, with the ousted Egyptian leader returning to the metal defendants' cage in a Cairo courtroom.

Egyptian state television showed the 83-year-old Mr Mubarak covered by a green blanket and lying on a hospital gurney when he was brought from a helicopter and taken to an ambulance for the short ride to the courthouse. He remained on the gurney throughout the hearing and spoke only once to say "present" when Judge Ahmed Rifaat called out his name at the start of the session.

Mr Mubarak is charged with complicity in the killing of more than 800 protesters in the crackdown on a popular uprising in January and February that forced him out of office. He could face the death penalty if convicted. He has been under arrest since April, but he has never gone to prison and instead has been confined to hospitals. His lawyers and doctors say he is suffering from heart ailments.

Mr Mubarak and his two sons, who are in prison, also face corruption charges in the same case.

Wednesday's session lasted for only a few hours. The next session is set for January 2.

An 18-day uprising forced Mr Mubarak to step down on February 11 after 29 years in power.

Protests and unrest have continued throughout the year, with pro-democracy activists keeping up pressure for reforms from the military, which took over from Mr Mubarak. Clashes between protesters and security forces have killed more than 100 people since Mr Mubarak's ouster.

Mr Rifaat, the judge, approved new requests from defense lawyers to expand the case to include other incidents of violence and deaths of protesters since Mr Mubarak's ouster. Mr Mubarak's lawyers argued that the killing of protesters continued even after he stepped down and asked for this to be considered evidence that he was not responsible for the killings.

The requests appeared to be part of a strategy to try to show that the protesters were not killed by security forces, but rather by assailants working for a foreign nation or criminals impersonating police officers.

One request the judge granted was for the interior ministry to provide the court with a list of firearm and ammunition stores looted during the early days of the anti-Mubarak uprising, as well as the type of weapons taken. He said he would also demand a list of stores that sell military and police uniforms and looted during the same period.

Mr Rifaat also agreed to ask authorities for the police reports on vehicles stolen from the force during the uprising and details about foreigners arrested in Egypt during the same period for involvement in unlawful acts.

Relations between the mostly youthful activists and the nation's military rulers have steadily worsened over the past few months, hitting a new low this month when soldiers brutally beat and stomped on protesters, including women, in clashes that left at least 18 people dead.

Mr Mubarak's trial began in August, and many in the country were riveted by the sight of the longtime authoritarian ruler lying on a hospital bed inside the defendant's cage, flanked by his two sons, who formerly wielded tremendous power.

During early sessions, the trial was bogged down by frequent commotion and arguments in the courtroom between lawyers representing both sides. Eventually, the judge banned the media as he summoned high-ranking officials to testify.