CAIRO: The trial of 49 people accused of a range of criminal offences allegedly committed during the April 6 clashes in Mahalla began Saturday at the Tanta Emergency State Security Court, where judges called for a continuance.
The next hearing will be held on Sept. 1.
Defense lawyer Ahmed Ezzat of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression told Daily News Egypt that only 26 of the group of 49 appeared in court.
The defense team requested that the public prosecution office be instructed to establish the status of all the defendants being held.
On his website 3arabawy (http://arabist.net/3arabawy), journalist Hossam El-Hamalawy, who attended the trial, wrote that during the trial defendants cried out “hour after hour, detailing the police torture and abuse they faced in custody.
The public prosecution office has not investigated defendants’ allegations of torture and abuse.
The group of 48 men and one woman were arrested in the weeks following protests which broke out in the Delta town of Mahalla over hiked food prices on April 6.
The demonstrations followed the collapse on the same day of a strike by 27,000 workers in a spinning factory in the town caused in part by security body intimidation.
Rights groups have condemned the excessive force – including live ammunition – which police bodies used against what eyewitnesses say was a peaceful demonstration.
Three people were killed during the demonstrations.
The group is being tried 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 defense team requested that the court appoint accountants and engineers to assess and calculate the damage and loss described in the police reports.
The court assented to this request.
Defense lawyers also requested that the defendants be released on bail.The court refused this and in fact ordered that defendants who had previously been released on bail be taken back into custody until the next court hearing.
Defendants pleaded not guilty to charges which right groups allege are being used to give credence to the government’s claims that the events of April 6 were an outbreak of thug-led violence, rather than an expression of discontent.
In a statement condemning the trial issued on Aug. 8, rights group Amnesty International criticized apparent bias in public prosecution office investigations.
“The main pieces of evidence used against the defendants are ‘confessions’ allegedly obtained under torture that they had thrown stones at the police as well as the testimonies of witnesses, all of whom are members of the security forces or government officials, the statement reads.
“Some of the defendants also said that they had not participated in the protest and had witnesses to confirm their statements. Although the public prosecutor heard some of these witnesses, he dismissed their testimonies as baseless, it continues.
Amnesty calls on the defendants to be either released or tried in an ordinary court because of the failure of exceptional courts to provide the procedural guarantees of a fair trial.
“Amnesty International’s research shows that [emergency courts] use evidence obtained under torture and other ill-treatment to secure convictions and their procedures routinely fall short of the basic guarantees for a fair trial, continued the statement. “Judgments by emergency courts cannot be appealed and become final after ratification by the president.