Mubarak Trial Hears Officers Testify They Were Unaware of Live-Fire Orders
By Mariam Fam – Sep 5, 2011 7:35 PM ET
The court trying former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak heard security officers testify that they had no knowledge of orders to fire live ammunition at protesters during the country’s uprising, in a stormy hearing where fistfights broke out between his supporters and opponents.
Families of the victims and lawyers representing them in the courtroom said yesterday they were shocked by the testimony, which they say may undermine the case against the 83-year-old Mubarak.
Yesterday’s hearing was the first time witnesses took the stand and the first since Judge Ahmed Refaat barred television cameras from the courtroom. Mubarak’s trial began on Aug. 3 after pressure from demonstrators demanding a swift and public prosecution of the man they blamed for corruption, political repression and police abuses. At least 846 people were killed during the revolt. Mubarak has pleaded not guilty, and the trial was adjourned until Sept. 7.
Hussein Saeed Mohamed, head of the communications department at the central security agency, testified that on Jan. 28 orders issued by the then assistant interior minister and defendant in the case, Ahmed Ramzy, were for the security forces to try to prevent protesters from reaching Tahrir Square.
“The instructions for the leaders in Tahrir Square were to deal with the protesters according to how they see the situation,” Mohamed said. “It was left up to them to disperse the protesters in the way they see appropriate using the equipment they have.”
Water, Tear Gas
Mohamed said that meant they could use water, tear gas, shields, batons and bird shot. Mohamed said Ramzy ordered weapons and ammunition and forces to be sent to the Interior Ministry to protect it on Jan. 28, after hearing a group of demonstrators planned to storm it, adding that he had no firsthand knowledge of whether those arms were used against protesters.
Three days earlier, on the first day of mass demonstrations, Ramzy had ordered security forces to use water cannons and tear gas to disperse the crowds, Mohamed said.
Asked by Judge Refaat if he was aware of orders for security forces to use firearms against protesters, Mohamed responded: “No.” He said that “during the 30 years I worked for the central security, there was no incident to show that anyone used live ammunition against protesters.”
Fistfights broke out between supporters and opponents of Mubarak during one of the hearings’ breaks after a supporter of the former president raised a photo of him. The courtroom erupted in chaos as lawyers from both sides jumped on benches, scuffled and exchanged insults.
Emad Badry Saeed, who worked at the central security operations room on Jan. 28, told the court that instructions from Ramzy were for security forces “to show utmost self restraint.” “He always told us to deal with the others as if they were our brothers or sons,” the witness said, adding he was not aware of any orders to fire at protesters.
Bassem Mohammed, another officer and prosecutor witness was asked if there were orders to fire live ammunition at protesters, and responded: “No. Only if they stormed the Interior Ministry, then the forces would fire bird shot in the air and on the feet. We weren’t notified that any live ammunition was used.”
“These are lies and deception,” said Moustafa Mohammed with a photo of his son, who he said was killed during the revolt, wrapped around his neck. “These witnesses sound like defense witnesses, not the prosecutors’. The case is very weak,” he said.
“If this drags on and the law fails to get us our rights, we will get revenge with our own hands,” the father said.
Families of Victims
Gamal Eid, a lawyer representing families of the victims, said the prosecutors’ witness testimonies showed that “investigations were not serious and were blatantly biased to the defendants and not to the victims.”
“The witnesses are talking as if it were aliens who came and committed these crimes against the martyrs,” the lawyer said.
Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, former Interior Minister Habib el-Adli and six of el-Adli’s aides are also on trial in the Cairo courtoom.
Repeatedly during the session, Judge Refaat struggled to maintain order, at times banging with his fist on the podium and yelling at lawyers to take their seats. At one point, he evicted one of those from the courtroom.
As Mubarak was brought back to the defendants’ cage after a break, his opponents yelled: “Oh Mubarak, execution awaits you.”
Mubarak, a key ally of the U.S. and Israel while in power, is also charged with using his office to acquire property for himself and his sons, and in relation to selling natural gas to Israel at below-market prices.
The trial comes as authorities struggle to repair the economy and grapple with demands for a transition to democracy. Egypt’s economy shrank an annual 4.2 percent in the first quarter as tourists stayed away and factory output was reduced by strikes.
To contact the reporter on this story: Mariam Fam in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Barden at email@example.com.