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PREVIEW-Mubarak faces new trial over killings of protesters

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 11 Apr 2013 16:45 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Court ordered retrial of Mubarak and aides in January

* Fact-finding report could bring new evidence

By Tom Perry

CAIRO, April 11 (Reuters) - Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak goes on trial on Saturday for the second time on charges of complicity in the murder of protesters during the uprising that unseated him.

The live televised retrial of the ailing 84-year-old former autocrat, toppled by mass protests in 2011, is likely to highlight the stumbling nature of Egypt's path to transitional justice.

The highest appeals court ordered a retrial in January after accepting appeals from both the defence and the prosecution. Each cited different shortcomings with a trial that ended with life prison terms for Mubarak and his interior minister but was criticised for the weak evidence offered by the prosecution.

Mubarak, former interior minister Habib al-Adli and four top aides are charged with involvement in the killing of more than 800 protesters who died in the 18-day uprising. Mubarak's two sons, Gamal and Alaa, face retrial on charges of financial corruption.

Mubarak's imprisonment last June was a historic moment; he was the first ruler toppled by the Arab Spring uprisings to stand trial in person.

But the case exposed the difficulties of attaining justice in a country whose judiciary and security forces are still largely controlled by figures appointed during his era.

Six senior Interior Ministry officers - two of them charged with lesser crimes - were acquitted. The prosecution complained that the ministry had failed to cooperate in providing evidence.

The judge convicted Mubarak and Adli on the grounds of their failure to stop the killing, rather than actually ordering it.

This time, the prosecution is expected to draw on the findings of a fact-finding committee established by President Mohamed Mursi last year. Mursi has faced criticism for failing to publish its report, which was completed in December.

Britain's Guardian newspaper published this week what it said were leaks from the report, alleging the military had been involved in torture, killings and forced disappearances during the uprising.

Ali Hassan, a member of the inquiry panel whose son was killed in the uprising, said the report should condemn Mubarak and the Interior Ministry officials.

"The minimum punishment for them should be death," he said.

"SPORADIC, HAPHAZARD" JUSTICE

Mubarak was sent to Tora Prison after being convicted last year and subsequently moved to a military hospital. He appeared at court hearings on a hospital bed, alongside his two sons. While the sons were cleared of the charges in that trial, they remain in jail pending other corruption investigations.

The retrial will also include a charge against Mubarak of improperly facilitating a natural gas deal with Israel.

Cases brought against other Mubarak-era officials have also failed to yield convictions.

"If we look at the various pillars of transitional justice, very little has been done on any of them," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem of the International Center for Transitional Justice.

"The things have been done have been sporadic, haphazard."

Mursi's decision to set up a fact-finding committee to probe the violence was welcomed as an attempt to assemble an independent picture of what happened during the uprising.

But critics say his failure to publish the findings raises questions. "Why would the facts be withheld? It is not a good omen," said Abdel Dayem.

Ahmed Ragab, a lawyer and another member of the fact-finding commission, said failure to publish the report marked a setback "because it delays the state's acknowledgement of crimes committed by the security forces against Egyptians".

He said Mursi may be unwilling to publish the report because the security forces, largely unreformed from Mubarak's days, are now "committing the same crimes".

There have, however, been changes in the state prosecutor's office. Mursi in November replaced the Mubarak-era prosecutor general who was in office at the time of the first trial.

But that step was condemned as illegal by Mursi's opponents, and could add a political edge to the retrial.

Despite the doubts, Ragab said he was hopeful: "The trial could be a good opportunity to open the files of the previous regime in a deeper and bigger way." (Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Paul Taylor and Andrew Roche)

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