Monday, 15 August 2011

Hosni Mubarak trial: Judge halts live TV coverage


The BBC's Yolande Knell in Cairo says there is a desire in Egypt to see that nobody is "above the law"
The judge at the trial of the former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has adjourned it for three weeks and said hearings will no longer be televised.
The trial will now be merged with that of former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly, who is also accused of ordering the killing of protesters.
Mr Mubarak once again appeared in court on a hospital bed, alongside his two sons, who are charged with corruption.
At least 20 people were injured in clashes between rival groups outside.
Mr Mubarak resigned on 11 February after 18 days of mass protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square, during which some 850 people were killed.
Tantawi demand
The 83-year-old former leader was brought to the Cairo police academy, that used to bear his name, in a military helicopter and then wheeled into the barred dock on a hospital bed. He was wearing a blue tracksuit.
His sons Alaa and Gamal stood next to him, dressed in white prison uniforms. They tried to shield him from the TV cameras.
Proceedings began with presiding Judge Ahmed Rifaat again struggling to maintain order, referring to the fact that there were more than 100 lawyers. He asked them to take their seats and show some respect.

Analysis

It was another day of drama in Cairo. Across the country, millions of Egyptians again tuned in to watch this incredible spectacle on state television. Despite continuing questions about his health, the former president looked alert and spoke clearly from his hospital bed, to state "mawgoud" or "present" in Arabic. He was also seen whispering to his sons.
Legal arguments began quickly. The large, often unruly, group of prosecution lawyers asked Judge Ahmed Rifaat about how proceedings would be organised and for access to evidence. Already the defence team had supplied a list of 1,600 witnesses they would like called, including the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Tantawi.
Afterwards, the judge announced a series of decisions. In accordance with the demands of the prosecution he said the trial would now be merged with that of the former Interior Minister, Habib al-Adly, who is also accused of giving orders to kill protesters. The judge also ordered the end of live TV broadcasts of the trial, saying he wanted to protect people's feelings. He may also have wanted to end the impression of disorder in the courtroom, where dozens of lawyers are competing to be heard.
Egyptians who have been protesting for greater transparency and openness in the trials of former officials, however, are unlikely to be satisfied.
After a recess, the judge ordered the merger of the Mubaraks' trial with that of Adly, announced that live TV coverage would end "in the interest of the public", and adjourned the case to 5 September.
Observers said the decision to halt live TV should make the work of the court easier, although opponents of Mr Mubarak outside appeared angry.
One of them, Sherif Mohamed, told the Reuters news agency: "Preposterous! The case is necessary for public opinion. Not airing it live means there is a deal with Mubarak."
But a lawyer representing some a number of families of dead protesters disagreed, telling the Associated Press: "This decision pleases most of the lawyers who are really working on the case, not those who want the TV appearance. This will give us the right to some calm and concentration and turn it again into a legal case, not a show."
Adly, who has already been sentenced to 12 years in prison for money-laundering, had reappeared in the Cairo court on Sunday on charges of killing hundreds of demonstrators during the uprising.
Lawyers for the families of protesters killed in the uprising had demanded the merging of the trials and applauded the ruling.
After the session was adjourned, Mr Mubarak's sons waved to supporters in the courtroom before exiting the dock, pushing their father's bed.
Hundreds of riot police were once again on guard outside the courtroom on Monday.
A number of Mubarak supporters had gathered, some chanting: "He is Egyptian until death" and "Hosni Mubarak is not Saddam".
Scuffles broke out at regular intervals with anti-Mubarak protesters, some of whom brandished hangman's nooses and demanded his execution. At one point, the riot police charged opponents of the former president.

The charges

  • Hosni Mubarak: Conspiring in killing of protesters (15 years in prison or death penalty); abusing power to amass wealth (5-15 years)
  • Alaa and Gamal Mubarak: abusing power to amass wealth (5-15 years)
  • Former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and six aides: Conspiring in killing of protesters (15 years or death penalty)
  • Hussein Salem, business tycoon and Mubarak confidant: tried in absentia for corruption (5-15 years in prison)
Lawyers for the families of the demonstrators who were killed have asked for greater access to Mr Mubarak's communication records.
The families want to know what orders he gave to his officials as police tried to stop the protests.
Defence lawyers have meanwhile demanded that Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who leads the military council that took over from Mr Mubarak but who was his defence minister for two decades, must testify. They say his evidence on Mr Mubarak could prove pivotal.
The judge has still to rule on who will testify.
Mr Mubarak's lawyer, Farid al-Deeb, has asked the judge to call 1,600 witnesses.
Observers say the judge will probably reduce the list he has demanded.
Mr Mubarak is reported to be in a poor state of health, and doctors have been constantly monitoring his medical condition at a military hospital near the capital.
BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, in Cairo, says the Mubarak legacy touches every part of Egypt and the way they deal with it will shape the new society as it emerges.
But as the violence outside the trial showed, he says, Egyptians are deeply divided about the past and about what comes next.

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