Egypt will try ex-President Mubarak in protesters’ deaths

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CAIRO — Deposed President Hosni Mubarak will stand
trial on charges related to the shooting deaths of protesters during the
country’s 18-day revolt, Egypt’s prosecutor-general announced Tuesday.
The charges could carry the death penalty.

Mubarak, 83, his sons, Gamal and Alaa, and a close
business associate, Hussein Salem, also will face charges that they
abused their power to amass wealth, the prosecutor-general said.

The charges were announced just days before thousands
of demonstrators were expected to rally in downtown Cairo to demand,
among other things, tougher action against the Mubaraks, and some
activists said the announcement was intended to quash momentum for the
protest, which organizers had hoped would draw as many as 1 million
participants.

State media reported that Mubarak remains
hospitalized; his two sons are among a slew of former regime officials
who await prosecution in a notorious Cairo prison.

No dates were announced for the trials, which will be
before a civilian criminal court. The prosecutor-general also offered
no details of the specifics of the case against Mubarak in the
shootings. The Associated Press quoted a spokesman for the prosecutor,
Adel el-Said, as saying that Mubarak and “some police chiefs” face
charges in the killings.

Whether the announcement of the criminal charges
would dampen enthusiasm for Friday’s protest was uncertain. In addition
to prosecution of the Mubaraks, activists want an end to the country’s
decades-old emergency law, the dissolution of municipal councils and the
creation of an advisory panel to the ruling Supreme Council of the
Armed Forces. The council, which has run Egypt since Mubarak stepped
down Feb. 11, has been accused of improperly prosecuting protesters in
military courts.

Refaat Ahmad, 24, a co-founder of a community development nonprofit group, said he still planned to attend the rally.

“The more we pressure, the more they offer scapegoats
and put more corrupt figures to trial,” Ahmad said, referring to the
ruling generals. “The more we pressure them, the more demands they try
to fulfill, so we’ll keep following that tactic.”

(EDITOR: BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM)

Activists have complained of a slow pace of
prosecutions against the Mubaraks and former regime officials,
especially as civilian protesters have received prison terms after
speedy military trials.

Federal prosecutors have countered that building such
a historic case takes time, with such obstacles as tracking down bank
accounts all over the world. In what seems to be another gesture to
quell the anger over the court process, the government released all but a
handful of activists who were detained from recent protests in Tahrir
Square and outside the Israeli Embassy.

Activists said that speedy, transparent trials of
former regime officials would do wonders for restoring public faith in
the judicial branch, which had exercised virtually no independence under
Mubarak. So far, the only conviction of a major regime figure has come
in the case of the widely detested former interior minister, Habib
el-Adly, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption.

Egyptians, however, are more concerned with the
charges el-Adly still faces: ordering the killings of protesters as the
head of the nation’s feared police and security apparatus. His next
court date is June 26.

Analysts marveled at the likely impact on Egypt of
seeing a former president, wearing a prison uniform, standing before a
judge in a courtroom.

“We never had any laws questioning governors or
ministers, so now to see the president put to criminal trial is a sign
the country is taking steps forward, and that confidence will start
building between the people and the supreme council,” said Filiopater
Gamil, a priest at a church in Giza and the general organizer of recent
demonstrations by Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority.

At least 846 people died in the Egyptian uprising,
and more than 6,400 were injured, many of them permanently, according to
a government fact-finding committee.

On Sunday, a criminal court sentenced a police
officer to death for killing 20 protesters and wounding another 15 on
Jan. 28, one of the bloodiest days of the revolution. That sentence was
handed down in absentia; authorities still haven’t tracked down Mohamed
Mahmoud Abdelmoneim, the convicted officer.

Also this month, revolutionary groups were outraged
by news that Mubarak’s wife, Suzanne, would receive immunity from
prosecution in exchange for handing over two bank accounts and a villa
in Cairo. The former first lady’s bank accounts contained more than $3
million, according to state media. Protesters dismissed that sum as
pennies compared with the tens of millions they suspect were embezzled
throughout Mubarak’s three decades in power.

Suzanne Mubarak, 70, agreed to sign over the accounts
after she was ordered into a 15-day detention for questioning on
accusations that she sought unlawful personal gain from her husband’s
position. There was no update on negotiations for her immunity;
government spokesmen couldn’t be reached for comment.

Amnesty International, the international human rights
advocacy group, praised the military council Tuesday for announcing the
prosecution of the Mubaraks, saying in a statement that “the trial must
offer the victims and their families the chance to confront the
defendants and get answers.”

Last week, Amnesty released a detailed report on the
use of excessive force by state security forces to suppress protests
during the uprising. The group interviewed hundreds of witnesses,
victims and their families to compile dozens of examples of arbitrary
detention, abuse and lethal force.

One chilling account in the report describes how an
18-year-old protester was forced “to undress while still blindfolded,
had his feet tied, was handcuffed and was then suspended by a rope
upside down. His head was submerged in a barrel of water and he was
given electric shocks. He was ordered to confess that he had been
trained by Israel or Iran.”

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(c) 2011, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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