Once jailed by Mubarak, rights lawyer argues against the fallen dictator in court

Mostafa Ali, Monday 15 Aug 2011

Human rights lawyer Gamal Eid speaks with Ahram Online on foot-dragging and destruction of evidence by officials and the possibilities for a fair outcome in the trial against Egypt’s last pharaoh

Gamal eid
Gamal Eid, Attorney and human rights activist (Photo: Reuters)

On 3 August 2011, under tremendous public pressure, the Egyptian government put ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak on trial for financial corruption as well as issuing orders to his subordinates to shoot unarmed, peaceful protesters during the 25 January peaceful protest against his regime.

Some Egyptians, who did not believe that the ruling military council would bring their former boss to court in the first place, are now doubting that the court will find Mubarak guilty as charged.

While most ordinary Egyptians are convinced that Mubarak is guilty beyond doubt, quite a few people also see that the prosecutors have not built a strong legal case against Mubarak.

First, the prosecutors had not yet presented to the court enough concrete evidence to convict Mubarak. Second, as of yesterday, the prosecutors had been trying Mubarak separately from his minister of interior (who directed the killing) and the police officers who did the actual killing. This could have allowed different defendants’ lawyers to pass the buck from one defendant to another.

In fact, many independent observers have argued that Mubarak’s lawyers have a decent chance of winning an acquittal for the dictator because of these weaknesses.

Attorney Gamal Eid, one of the 82 lawyers who represent 414 families of victims, is one of many lawyers and individuals who say that they are not  so sure what the outcome of Mubarak’s trial will be.

However, after the judge in Mubarak's trial today combined the ousted president's trial with that of his former minister of interior, Eid sounded more hopeful.

"The trial has moved in a positive direction today," he tweeted to his supporters.

Gamal Eid, a 47-year-old human rights lawyer, works as the director of non-governmental Arab Center for Human Rights Information. Eid and his legal staff represent on a pro bono basis 16 of the families of the victims in Mubarak’s trial.

Eid himself suffered persecution under the former dictator’s regime. As a labour and human rights activist, Mubarak’s now dismantled State Security Intelligence imprisoned Eid on four separate occasions, charging him with frivolous crimes such as “chanting against the president,” and distributing leaflets that that “threaten social peace.”

As a lawyer over the course of 20 years, Eid has represented tens of Egyptians in cases involving human rights and labour abuses and thus battled Mubarak’s prosecutors in all sorts of courts of law on numerous occasions.

This time, Eid gets a chance to be part of the trial against his former jailor.

Lawyer Gamal Eid gave his opinion to Ahram Online on the status of the trial, what strategies the prosecution, victims and defence lawyers plan to utilise and what Egyptians and the world can expect in the next few months.

Ahram Online: On 3 August, the first day of Mubarak’s trial, many lawyers representing the victims’ families and even family members were not allowed to enter the court room. Why was that and has this problem been solved?

Gamal Eid: The police prevented 40 lawyers out of a total of 82 representing the families from getting into the court room that day. Moreover, they allowed only one member of the families to enter.

I think one reason for this confusion is that the ministry of justice, which is responsible for issuing courtroom passes, is simply incompetent. However, our sources in the Ministry of Justice also told us that intelligence officers delayed approving passes for prosecutors, but we do not know why.

Anyways, families’ lawyers protested and we put lots of pressure on Judge Refaat, the presiding magistrate. He yielded and he now allows lawyers and families in the court if they show proof of identity.

AO: On 3 August, one more time, the world got the impression that Mubarak, his two sons and his former minister of interior Habib El-Adly were being tried in one legal case because they were all standing in one cage. But we also understand that the judge is actually looking into 2 separate issues, one for corruption and one for murder of protesters, simultaneously. Can you please explain to us what is going on?

GE: Here is what the judge was looking at on 3 August: he was looking at two separate court cases.

The first court case is against Mubarak, his two sons and his fugitive friend, Hussein Salem.

This is a two-part case: 1) The prosecution is accusing Mubarak and company of financial corruption, squandering public assets and illegally selling gas to Israel at below-market prices. 2) The prosecution is accusing Mubarak alone of issuing orders to officials to shoot and kill unarmed protesters in the period between 25 and 28 January.

The second court case is simpler: it is against former minister of interior Habib El-Adly and six of his top aides; the guys sitting behind him in the cage. In this case, the prosecution is accusing El-Adly and company of giving orders to shoot and kill unarmed protesters, also, in the same period I mentioned.

AO: How do we make sense of this? Firstly, why did the prosecution bundle corruption charges against Mubarak and his cohorts with the murder charges against Mubarak. Secondly, if Mubarak and El-Adly are accused of murdering the same protesters, why didn’t the prosecution just ask for one trial for both men on murder charges?

GE: This is one of the problems we face as lawyers of families of the victims: these separate shenanigans do not make sense. It actually makes our attempt to prove that Mubarak and El-Adly are both guilty more difficult.

I think the prosecution bungled its case because it was pushed by the government to rush Mubarak into court in order to calm down public anger.

The prosecution did not present any signed documents to the court that show that Mubarak ordered El-Adly to shoot people or that El-Adly ordered anyone else to shoot people.

Since there are two separate cases against these defendants, their lawyers could simply argue that there is no signed paper that proves that their clients ordered killing anyone, and just wait things out.

That is why we, as lawyers for families of the victims, have asked the courts to combine these two separate murder trials against Mubarak and El-Adly into one. If we can get Mubarak and his minister of interior into one legal bind, we are sure that they will both produce documents and evidence that incriminate one another.

In fact, Mubarak and El-Adly’s lawyers might win their cases because the officers who did the actual killing are not defendants in either case.

You need the officers who pulled the trigger to tell the court who ordered them to do so. I am sure these officers will tell the court what everyone knows: our boss El-Adly gave us the orders to shoot. At this point, I have no doubt that El-Adly will tell the court what Mubarak said and did not say to him.

That is why we are fighting to convince the court not only to combine the Mubarak and El-Adly cases into one, but we are also trying to get the judge to add all the officers accused of killing protesters into one big case.

AO: Well, where are these officers that you say killed protesters? How many police officers, if any, have been indicted?

GE:The lawyers and the families of the martyrs know the names and ranks of tens of police officers and sergeants who killed their loved ones. Moreover, families have filed tens of complaints against specific officers they believe killed their loved ones.

So far, the prosecutor general has only sent five cases to court in the entire country.

One such lone case is in Dar El-Salam district of greater Cairo. The government there has indicted seven officers and sergeants of killing six unarmed youth during the uprising.

But the office of the prosecutor general has done very little to expedite investigations into tens of other complaints against other police officers.

This means that police officers who might have killed innocent people seven months ago are still free. Moreover, many of these officers have been wreaking havoc on families of victims and threatening them in order to get them to drop charges or to alter testimonies.

The families are trying to resist numerous threats by accused police officers.

For example, the father of martyr Mohamed Said Abdel Latif, who was killed in Giza during the uprising, has filed a complaint against two heavy-weight police officers in Giza: Hossam Fawzy and Mohamed Mokhtar, accusing them of intimidation and blackmail.

Other families in Alexandria are also trying to resist threats made by officers accused of killing their loved ones.

In any case, we might find it hard to convict Mubarak and El-Adly if the court doesn’t combine the murder trials of all three levels of criminals: the dictator, the minister of interior and the executors into one.

AO: We saw the court looking at a huge number of boxes filled with material evidence, such as bullets, pistols, rifles that the prosecutors say officers used in killing protesters. Shouldn’t this amount of evidence be sufficient to convict officers and then El-Adly and Mubarak?

GE: This evidence is important. However, the prosecution does not have two important sets of records from the Central Security Forces (who did most of the killing) that are essential to convict the officers. They are mostly missing.

The first set of records that are missing are known as the salahlek records. These are the registers that show the court which high-ranking officers ordered which lower-ranking officers to check out which weapons to take into the field and kill protesters.

The second sets of records that are missing are called deployment records, which could establish or prove that the accused officers were at the scene of the crime - and at the time it was committed.

AO: Where are these records?

GE:The CSF say they “lost” them.

We thought that we made headway when the government charged a high-ranking CSF officer, General Hussein Said Mohamed Moussa, with destroying public records when he erased them from his department’s control room.

Astonishingly, when the officers’ trials began, we found out that General Moussa has been upgraded from a defendant to a witness.

AO: What is Prosecutor-General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud doing about all of this? Have you appealed to him?

GE: We tried appealing to Mr Mahmoud, to no avail. We actually believe that the prosecutor general does not have the political will to get this trial right. In fact, we believe that the prosecutor general is a big part of the problem. He is a leftover from the Mubarak era. He is either unwilling or unable to push for complete and swift justice. We want an independent and neutral prosecutor general.

AO: Are you pessimistic because of these hurdles you discussed? Do you think, like some people do, that you cannot convict Mubarak because they are, in effect, using the laws and friends that Mubarak himself left behind?

GE: No. I am optimistic. I believe that we can convict Mubarak even on the basis of his own laws. His crimes are so blatant and barbaric. The world knows these crimes in terms of the cost of human lives we saw with our own eyes. And we will also prove his guilt and crimes from a legal point of view and in his own kind of court of law.

However, we have to fight for an independent and neutral prosecutor general. We will ask the judge to appoint independent investigators to help us gather the material evidence and records that we need.

AO: We have three final quick questions. First, who are the lawyers representing Mubarak? What is their defence strategy?

GE: They are mostly high calibre, experienced criminal defence lawyers who are making a lot of money. They will try to pass the buck between Mubarak and El-Adly. They will also try to drag the trial out as long as possible. For example, they will ask the court to listen to testimony from more than 1,631 potential witnesses, which is an endeavour that could last for months.

AO: Who is paying them?

GE: Mubarak’s family and his sons’ wives are footing the bill, as far as we know.

AO: Some in the media said that some of the lawyers of the families of the victims do not have equal representation to that of Mubarak.

GE: We do have some lawyers who are new and possibly trying to build a reputation for themselves. But, we are mostly a combination of human rights lawyers who are doing this pro bono. We also have great lawyers like Sameh Ashour and Amir Salem. However, criminal cases in Egypt are primarily a battle between prosecutors and defence lawyers. Convictions in criminal cases in Egypt are more about what type of case the prosecutors put together. Lawyers representing victims primarily support the prosecution’s case.

AO: As someone who was pushed into Mubarak’s cages more than once for your political activities, how did you feel when you walked into the court room as a lawyer trying to convict Mubarak for the crime of murdering peaceful protesters, and Mubarak was there sitting behind the cage?

GE: When I saw Mubarak inside of that cage, I knew that we are on the very first steps in a long trip towards democracy and justice. I became more convinced that we were right to start this revolution. And I know that the Egyptian people will ultimately win. I am concerned though, not necessarily because of the trial, but more so because of the fact that the ruling military council is using military trials against revolutionaries.

Gamal Eid did not attend today's session of Mubarak's trial, although his office staff was in attendance. Eid said he has to appear in military court on behalf of a number of young men who are facing military trials.

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