CAIRO: The trial of 48 men and one woman accused of a range of criminal offences allegedly committed during the April 6 clashes will begin on Aug. 9, their lawyers told Daily News Egypt.
The group – five of whom are at large – will be tried in an exceptional court on what lawyers allege are spurious, trumped-up charges including “criminal damage to public and private property, assault of a public official, unlawful assembly of more than five people and illegal possession of weapons.
The announcement by workers in the Ghazl El-Mahalla Spinning Mill that they would go on strike on April 6 had prompted calls by activists and political opposition groups for a nationwide general strike on the same day.
When the Ghazl El-Mahalla strike was aborted following intense intimidation by security bodies and worker disunity, hundreds of people in the Delta town of Mahalla, in which the factory is located, took to the streets shortly around 4 pm.
According to journalists and eyewitnesses, the crowds of people which converged on the main square were protesting rising food prices caused by soaring inflation.
While the government alleges that it was criminally-motivated thugs who were responsible for the ensuing violence that broke out on April 6 and 7, eyewitnesses say that heavy-handed policing by hundreds of security body troops who allegedly used live ammunition against crowds was the real cause of the violence.
A 15-year-old boy, Ali Mabrouk, was shot dead while standing in the third floor balcony of his home on the night of April 6.
His family told Daily News Egypt that central security force troops were underneath the house at the time of the shooting.
Hundreds of people – including children – were rounded up and arrested over the course of the two days.
According to defence lawyer Ahmed Ezzat of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, some of the group of 49 who were either detained or remain in detention, have alleged that they were tortured.
The charges against the group – some carrying lengthy prison sentences – will be heard by an exceptional court established under the emergency law which lacks basic guarantees of due process.
Human Rights Watch in a statement issued on Friday called on Egyptian authorities to quash the transfer of the case to the Supreme State Security Court.
“The Supreme State Security Court was established under Egypt’s emergency law in 1980 and follows procedures that violate internationally recognized fair trial norms, the statement reads.
“In violation of guarantees of the independence of the judiciary, two military judges may sit alongside the Security Court’s regular bench of three civilian judges, it continues.
In addition to concerns about the trial process itself, lawyers and activists have expressed concern both about the police investigation process and the motives for bringing the charges.
In early June Egyptian daily El-Badeel published parts of the public prosecution office’s questioning of a state security officer involved in the case.
Mohamed Fathy Abdel-Rahman told the public prosecution office that he had relied on “80 or 90 sources to gather evidence against those alleged to have committed crimes on April 6 and 7 in Mahalla.
Abdel-Rahman reportedly refused to divulge the name of these sources – some of whom are not police – in order to “protect their safety.
He was also quoted as saying that not all the sources were actually present at the scene of the events.
Furthermore, Abdel-Rahman allegedly told the public prosecution office that he and other members of the police investigation squad did not actually take part in surveillance of suspects “because of the scale of the events in Mahalla.
In an op-ed published this month in the Socialist Worker, a British publication, activist Hossam El-Hamalawy alleges that the 49 are “scapegoats for the uprising in Mahalla and describes the legal process against them as a “show trial.