TANTA: The trial of 49 people accused of committing offences during clashes with police on April 6 and 7 resumed Saturday in the Tanta Emergency State Security Court, when prosecution witnesses were heard.
On Saturday members of the police force involved in the arrest and investigation of the case against the 49 gave evidence.
The court heard the testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Fathy, head of investigations in Mahalla’s state security office, General Khaled Gharaba, head of criminal investigations in El-Gharbeyya, Colonel Samy Lotfy El-Sayyed, head of public security in Damietta, and Colonels Reda Ahmed Tableyya and Ayman Rady Khamees from Mahalla’s criminal investigations division.
The police officers gave largely identical responses to the questions posed to them by judge Mohamed Samir.
Halfway through the prosecution witness testimony, the judge realized that other prosecution witnesses were present in the courtroom, and ordered that they leave.
When Khamees entered the courtroom to give testimony defendants being held in the dock shouted insults at him.
Some of the defendants allege that they were tortured while in police custody. These allegations have not been investigated.
El-Sayyed told the court that police forces had drawn up a plan after groups had called for a general strike on April 6 via the Internet, satellite channels and in newspapers.
He continued by saying that on the day itself large gatherings, disturbances and clashes between crowds and police forces occurred, prompting the police to summon additional forces on April 7, when clashes continued.
All the police officers testified that the crimes attributed to the defendants – criminal damage to public and private property, assault of a public official, unlawful assembly of more than five people – were premeditated.
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.
Defense lawyer Ahmed Hegazy told the court that 360 of the hundreds arrested in Mahalla on April 6 and 7 have alleged that they were abused while in police custody.
None of the 49 defendants were arrested while in the act of committing the crimes they are accused of.
Rather, they were arrested at various times between April 13 and 18 following police investigations about which lawyers and rights groups have expressed serious concerns.
“When [the defendants] were brought before the Public Prosecutor on April 21, 22 and 23, their lawyers complained about the torture and other ill-treatment inflicted on their clients, Amnesty International said in a statement issued Friday.
“No independent investigation is known to have been opened as a result. The main evidence used against the defendants are the confessions, allegedly extracted under torture, that they had thrown stones at the police, as well as the testimonies of members of the security forces and government officials.
“Some of the defendants said that they had not even participated in the protests, this being confirmed by witnesses. These witness statements were dismissed by the Public Prosecutor.
Hassan El-Zogby told Daily News Egypt that his son Mohamed, who works as a driver in Saudi Arabia, was arrested while renewing his driver’s licence in Egypt and had nothing to do with the events.
Samia Said – whose 19-year-old son Mahmoud Ibrahim is one of the 49 defendants – told Daily News Egypt that evidence that her son was at work at the time of the events has been ignored.
“Mahmoud is a student of social services and had absolutely nothing to do with the events, Said said.
“He was arrested 3 days after the events while in Shoun Square [in Mahalla]. The owner of the place where he works as a janitor told the public prosecution office that he was at work at the time of the events but this was ignored.
Said told Daily News Egypt that her son disappeared for 10 days after his arrest. It subsequently emerged that he was being held by state security investigations.
She alleges that her son was tortured while in custody.
Relatives of the defendants were not allowed into the courtroom.
Ibrahim was one of 20 defendants released on bail by the public prosecution office on June 2.
Nine of this group were rearrested and kept in custody under administrative detention orders. Said says that her son is currently in hiding.
One of those released on bail who voluntarily appeared at the last trial held on Aug. 8 was taken back into custody and is currently being held with the other defendants in Borg El-Arab prison.
When the police officers were asked about details concerning the police investigation into the crimes, all replied “I don’t remember or “details are in the evidence I gave to the public prosecution office.
When lawyer Hegazy asked how it was that criminal damage and other crimes occurred despite the police putting in place an emergency response plan, El-Sayyed answered that the “scale of the events was bigger than could be controlled by the forces we put in place.
Lawyers allege that the charges against their clients have been concocted to give credence to government claims that the events of April 6 and 7 in Mahalla were acts of thug-led rioting, rather than protests against increasing food prices.
They point to the fact that the defendants were not arrested while in the act of committing the crimes they are accused of, and the fact that police investigations largely relied on informers, as evidence of this.
In addition, eyewitnesses who were present at the scene of the alleged looting of two schools in Mahalla claim that it was orchestrated by the police.
Printers and computers allegedly stolen from the schools were presented to the court as evidence on Saturday, in addition to telephone cabins and advertising hoardings allegedly destroyed by the defendants.
The trial continued Sunday, when remaining prosecution witnesses were heard. Today, the testimony of defence witnesses will be heard.