Mubarak’s Verdict: A New Blow For The Justice System In Egypt
Justice was dealt another severe blow, said the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) following today's ruling by the Cairo Criminal Court dismissing the case against Mubarak and acquitting former interior minister Habib el-Adly and six of his aides in their retrial over the killing of hundreds of protesters during the 25 January Revolution. The verdict further entrenches impunity for gross human rights violations committed by security forces, yet again absolved of responsibility for killing, injuring and torturing protesters.
Originally, in 2011, the prosecution refrained from investigating Mubarak’s guilt in the matter, and was only forced to begin such investigation after mass demonstrations. A conviction followed in 2012 in spite of the flaws that marred the criminal investigations. The retrial of former President Mubarak and then Interior Minister Habib Adly began in April 2013, after the Court of Cassation overturned their initial conviction of 2012. Six of Adly's aides also faced retrial, after the prosecution appealed their acquittal in the initial trial.
On Saturday, November 29, 2014, the case against Mubarak was found to be groundless based on procedural irregularities- possibly to avoid acquitting Mubarak even though an acquittal for Adly and his six aides exonerate him of guilt.
The verdict is a further solidification for establishing the security institution’s impunity, and reflects the current political atmosphere”, said Hoda Nasrallah, the researcher at EIPR, “What happened during the trial and the arguments of the defendants shown on television and how they acquitted themselves and addressed the public opinion, was a clear indication of the trials’ direction especially with preventing the lawyers of the victims from attending the sessions”.
The verdict further reinforces concerns about the alarmingly selective justice system in Egypt, which appears more intent on settling political scores and punishing dissent than establishing justice. While thousands of political dissidents are indicted and even convicted based on flimsy evidence with little effort to establish individual criminal responsibility; investigations into police abuse are rarely conducted, let alone result in prosecutions or convictions. Mubarak, Adly and the 6 aides are not alone in being absolved of responsibility of killing protesters. Few police officers were charged with killing protesters during 25 January Revolution and in the following years, fewer still have received suspended or extremely lenient sentences. The remainder were acquitted. Only two served time.
During the retrial, the judicial authorities ignored demands by human rights organizations and victims' families to prosecute the direct perpetrators of the acts and consider additional material evidence. The presiding judge, Mahmoud al-Rashidy - taking over the case after Judge Mostafa Hassan Abdallah recused himself - barred victims, their families and lawyers from attending the sessions – denying them the right to learn the truth about what happened.
Today's disappointing ruling comes as no surprise in light of the judicial authorities' failure to properly address the deep flaws in the original trial. Initial proceedings were marred by shortcomings ranging from the public prosecution's inadequate investigations, to the court's disregard of victims' lawyers motions to consider new evidence, to the judges' decision to ignore over a thousand witness accounts and audiovisual and other material evidence demonstrating police involvement in the killings. In issuing its verdict, the court claimed: “the case documentation and seized items contain no evidence to persuade the court that the original perpetrators were police officers and personnel”, only convicting Mubarak and Adly for their failure to stop the bloodshed.
At the time, the Public Prosecution blamed the verdict on the lack of cooperation from national security agencies, but didn't take any steps to hold them to account for hampering investigations or withholding information.
This time around, some steps were taken to overcome the shortcomings of the original trial but they were not sufficient to ensure the fair outcome of the proceedings. Some of these steps included the admittance of new evidence in the retrial based on the report of the fact finding committee which had been founded under ousted president Mohamed Morsi to investigate incidents of political violence between 2011 and the election in 2012. Further, the court heard additional witness testimonies in closed sessions from senior military and security officials including former Armed Froces’ chief-of-staff Sami Anan, Hassan Rueni, a former member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Mourad Mouafi, former General Intelligence Director, and Hamdi Badeen, former chief of the military police.
These acquittals expose deep flaws in the Egyptian Code of Criminal Procedures entrusting evidence-gathering to police even in cases of alleged police abuse, allowing them to tamper with the evidence or withhold it to escape accountability. Without having independent bodies investigating cases of police brutality, justice cannot be achieved.
Courts have consistently applied different standards for proving crimes, depending on whether defendants were law enforcement officials or regular citizens. For instance, in the trial known to the media as the “Matay” case, the judge handed down 37 death sentences and 491 life imprisonments on charges of killing a single police officer on 14 August 2013, arguing that criminal intent to kill any member of the police forces and presence at the crime scene presented sufficient evidence to convict them of murder or attempted murder. The same logic never applied in trials of police officers accused of killing protesters during the 25 January Revolution. Courts have consistently acquitted police officers present at the scenes of protester killings citing lack of evidence linking individual officers to protester deaths or arguing self-defense.
According to official statistics, about 840 protesters were killed and more than 6,000 injured during the 18 days of the January 2011 revolution which led to Mubarak's removal on the 11th of February 2011.
Impunity for abuse of power and gross human rights violations including for the killings of more than 1,000 people during the events unleashed after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi from office in July 2013 have further emboldened the security apparatus and Mubarak regime figures. For instance, during hearings in the retrial, Adli's defense asked for videos of the dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins in August 2013 to be added as evidence in the case to show that security forces behaved legally during the 2011 January protests.
With the justice system continuing to fail victims of human rights violations and protecting the security apparatus, it becomes evident that without political will to introduce necessary institutional and legal reforms, perpetrators of such crimes will continue to escape punishment for the abuses they commit.