CAIRO: A reluctant prosecution witness in the trial of Egypt s leading opposition politician was found dead, apparently of suicide, in his prison cell Thursday, police said.
During the 2005 trial of opposition presidential candidate Ayman Nour, fellow defendant and prosecution witness Ayman Hassan abruptly announced that he had been forced by security services to implicate his former employer.
The judge at the time ignored his recanting and sentenced both he and Nour to five years in prison.
He was found hanged by a bed sheet, said a police official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make statements.
Nour was on trial for ordering his followers to forge the signatures needed to found his liberal El Ghad opposition party the previous year.
His lawyer Amir Salem told the Associated Press that Hassan s death comes just as he and his client were looking into opening an investigation into the circumstances of the trial and the fate of the other defendants.
A few weeks ago Ayman Nour was asking for a hearing into the situation of one of the defendants and suddenly we hear today he killed himself, he said. So I m going to ask the prosecutor general to open a real big criminal investigation about Ayman Hassan s death.
Salem told Daily News Egypt that on Aug. 21 he also requested the opening of an investigation into the whereabouts of Farag Shedid, one of the accused in Nour’s case.
In that investigation Salem said that all prison files should be checked to know exactly who had access to Ayman Hassan’s cell. Alongside questioning of the officers, soldiers and other inmates. His body should also be scientifically examined to find out what happened to him.
Hassan’s body is now in the morgue being checked, Salem added.
It was very well known to the police and the prosecutor general that the one we were hoping to hear was Ayman Hassan, he added.
Their plan, as Salem said, was to hear Ayman Hassan in that investigation, and then use his testimony to open an investigation about Nour’s case.
In June 2005 session of the trial, Hassan abruptly shouted from his defendants cage that he wanted to change his testimony. He later told the Associated Press in the courtroom that police had threatened his nieces to force him to implicate Nour.
In the next court session, Hassan testified that Nour was innocent of the charges of forgery. His lawyer then asked the court to provide protection for his client from those who forced him to confess.
Salem said that Hassan s family said that he had been increasingly complaining of poor treatment in prison lately.
Hassan s recanting was taken as proof by Nour and his supporters that security services had framed the opposition politician for having the temerity to oppose Egypt s long serving president.
Nour ran against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the country s first openly contested presidential elections in September 2005 and came in a distant second. A few months later he was convicted and jailed for forgery.
Nour s incarceration has been criticized by President George W. Bush and other Western leaders and human rights groups. -Associated Press Writer Salah Nasrawi and Daily News Egypt reporter Maram Mazen contributed to this report. Associated Press