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Egypt Judge recuses himself in Mubarak retrial case

The judge in the retrial of the former president on charges of failing to protect demonstrators during the January 2011 revolution sends case to a different court

Bel Trew, Salma Shukrallah, Mostafa Ali, Diaa Adel, Saturday 13 Apr 2013
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, second right, waves at his supporters, who with his sons Alaa, right, and Gamal. left attend a hearing in their retrial on appeal in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, April 13, 2013 (Photo: AP)

Judge Mostafa Hassan Abdullah of the Cairo Criminal Court overseeing Mubarak's murder retrial has recused himself on Saturday and referred the case to the Cairo Appeal Court.

"This is in line with the demands of the Lawyers' Union Lagnat Horreyat (Freedoms Committee), which had already asked him [the judge] to recuse himself ," Ahmed El-Damaty, the deputy head of the lawyer's union told Ahram Online's Bel Trew outside of the courtroom.

Upon the judge's announcement, tensions escalated between the plaintiff's lawyers and relatives of the January 25 Revolution martyrs and lawyers of the defendants.

Minor scuffles erupted between the two sides before security intervened.

The Cairo Appeal Court is expected to set a new date and judicial district for the retrial to resume.

Lawyers for plaintiffs relieved for now

"The decision today was 100 percent right. All Egyptians asked that the judge step down because that judge was involved in the infamous Battle of Camel case. All of these cases concern the January 25 Revolution - which means people have been closely following them, so the judge felt 'embarrassed.' This is what he said. So he decided to step down," El-Damaty told Ahram Online.

"It was not a surprise for us - this decision will satisfy most of the people, except for those siding with the former president. We hope that this trial will be part of the ongoing and real revolution, which will finally remove all the feloul [former regime remnants] from our lives and from Egypt," El-Damaty added. 

Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud described the decision as "positive," considering that Judge Hassan Abdullah had already ruled in a similar case in 2012 and the outcome in Mubarak's retrial today would not likely be very different.

"The court made its stand clear when it ruled in favour of those accused in the Battle of the Camel... it is a wise decision [to recuse himself]."

Eleven anti-Mubarak protesters were killed and over 600 injured on 2 February, 2011 in an attack by a mob of Mubarak supporters using camels and horses on Tahrir Square.

In October, 2012, Abdullah cleared 21 top Mubarak-era officials accused of masterminding the attack on peaceful protesters of all wrongdoing.

"I'm one of the lawyers who filed for the judge to step down: he was the judge of the Battle of the Camel trial, which acquitted everyone involved. This worried us; we feared he would not be impartial and that his presence would affect the trial's fairness," Amer Ahmed Saad, civil rights lawyer, told Ahram Online.

"Ultimately, the judge stepped down because he felt 'embarrassed.' This is why he recused himself. I am satisfied with this. It is better for him to step down; it is the right thing for him to do,"  Saad added.

"Egypt's leader, Mohamed Morsi, forced lots of people to rethink the old regime" said Saad, regretting that the current state of affairs in Egypt has made some reminisce and wish for the old Mubarak days.

"However, what we can say is that the one person who brought all of this corruption and madness that we are suffering from is Hosni Mubarak. We have to blame him first before we can fix the current regime.

"Mubarak is responsible for destroying our freedom and our constitution and faking the elections all time. The Brotherhood are just continuing his legacy. They are only interested in their own people. I fear that the Brotherhood regime will be worse than Mubarak's, but, ultimately, who is responsible for setting the precedent is Mubarak," he concludes.

Mubarak's hopes dashed for now

Earlier on Saturday morning, ousted President Mubarak and his sons Gamal and Alaa smiled as they waved to supporters from their cage inside the court room as they waited for judges to start proceedings in their retrial cases.

A medically equipped helicopter had carried ousted President Hosni Mubarak from Maadi Military Hospital to the Police Academy in North Cairo where he faces retrial for his role in killing protesters during the January 25 Revolution, Ahram Arabic news website reported.

Alaa and Gamal Mubarak arrived at the academy a few minutes after their father in armoured personal carriers guarded by police vans to face retrial in financial corruption convictions.

Attorney Essam Batawy, representing former interior minister Habib El-Adly, told Ahram Online he would have petitioned for El-Adly be released for time served, considering his client has spent two years in provisional detention.

The ministry of interior had intensified its security measures around the academy where the proceedings of his retrial were set to take place.

Tens of pro-Mubarak supporters carrying pictures of the former dictator rallied outside the academy and were hoping he would be released today.

Legal case continues

Former president Hosni Mubarak will be retried before the new court for the killing of demonstrators during the 18 days of Egypt's 25 January 2011 revolution.

Mubarak was convicted in June 2012 for failing to protect peaceful protesters, and slapped with a life imprisonment sentence.

In January, 2013, an appeal court ordered a retrial for Mubarak and co-defendants due to procedural irregularities in the initial trial.

Additionally, former interior minister Habib El-Adly and six of his top aides face retrial for their role in the murder of protesters during the uprising.

El-Adly, like Mubarak, was hit with a life sentence, however, his six aides were all acquitted.

In January, an appeal court ruled Mubarak and co-defendants had the right to appeal verdicts due to procedural irregularities in the initial trial.

One of the plaintiff's lawyers, Sayed Hamed, told Ahram Online from the courtroom that he had intended to demand that the court add several key figures in the Mubarak era to the list of defendants in the case.

Those include the secretary general of the now dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP) Safwat El-Sherif; former NDP member and steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz; Mubarak's younger son, Gamal; former first lady Suzanne Mubarak and parliament speaker under Mubarak's rule Ahmed Fathi Sorour to the list of defendants in the case of killing demonstrators during the 18-day uprising.

According to Damaty, the Fact Finding Committee established by President Mohamed Morsi following his election last year has recently finished further investigations, which revealed that there are 10 more pieces of evidence against Mubarak in the trial that still need to be considered.

"This, I believe will change the new case... I think it will take a maximum of three months to find out who the new judge is who will take over" El-Damaty said. 

Counter to general expectations before Saturday's court session, Mubarak will not be released anytime soon, according to Damaty.

"Mubarak is not only detained for 15 days on one corruption case, but rather there are two other cases extending his period of detention, hence he will stay in jail."

"We don't know if there will be other cases raised against him, which will further extend his current detention and if this will cover the time until his retrial. We'll know about the new judge in the next two to four months"

"At this point they will also announce the new schedule for the trial, however, none of us knows when the retrial will take place. It's up to the office of Special Prosecutor for the Protection of the Revolution [established by President Morsi after his inauguration] to decide how long the trial will take and can ask the judge to speed up the process," Damaty added.

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