TANTA: The trial of 49 people accused of committing crimes during demonstrations earlier this year in Mahalla was postponed Wednesday, when defendants interrupted the prosecutor’s pleadings before the Tanta emergency state security court.
Earlier, some members of the defense team withdrew from the case after protesting the court’s failure to accept their demands, which the presiding judge later accepted.
Lawyer Ahmed Seif El Islam asked the court how he was expected to present pleadings to the court when the defense team had not received an official copy of the case documents.
Another defense lawyer Mohamed Abdel Aziz told Daily News Egypt before the session began that the defense had not received important case documents.
“We found out during the testimony of one of the prosecution witnesses that there exists a report, complete with photographs of the events, which we were not shown, Abdel Aziz said.
Seif El-Islam also protested the court’s rejection of other defense demands, and, in addition to the demand that the defense be shown the report and photographs, he requested that central security troops present in Mahalla’s Shoun Square at the time of the events be allowed to give testimony.
He also asked that eyewitnesses who saw the looting of two schools in Mahalla be allowed to give evidence in court.
Seif El-Islam told the court that their testimony conflicts with the public prosecution office’s charges.
Seven defense witnesses gave evidence during the court session on behalf of individual defendants.
The group of 48 men and one woman were arrested in the weeks following protests that broke out in the Delta town of Mahalla over hiked food prices on April 6.
Lawyers and rights groups allege that the case against the defendants has been contrived to support 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 what lawyers say are incomplete police investigations and confessions allegedly extracted under torture.
Heba Maged Abo Taleb told the court that her neighbor, Farahat Abdallah, was not actually in Mahalla at the time the events took place.
“He was away, working in Sharqeya, and only came back two days after the demonstrations, she said.
Abdallah is charged with criminal damage to public and private property.
When she was asked why she thinks Abdallah was arrested, Abo Taleb replied, “All I know is that they were rounding up anyone with a criminal record.
Ashraf Abdel Moneim, one of the defendants, spoke to Daily News Egypt from inside the dock.
“I was in my shop on April 16 when a police officer approached me. He told me to get into the police car, and that he needed to have a word with me but that it would only take a few minutes, he said.
“I was taken to the Mahalla police station where they put me in a cell for 10 days. When my family came to ask about me they told them I wasn’t there.
Abdel Moneim was charged with illegal possession of a weapon.
“I once had a criminal conviction, but for the past five years I’ve stayed out of trouble. Witnesses even testified to the public prosecutor that I was in my shop at the time of the demonstrations.
Abdel Moneim alleged that the “trumped-up charges against the defendants have been brought in order to “justify the extension of the state of emergency.
To support his claims, he referred to photographs which, he says, show police troops deliberately damaging property.
He also pointed to another defendant, Ashraf Mohamed Eissa, who has visible muscular problems in his hands inhibiting their range of motion.
Eissa is accused of stealing computers and printers from a school in Mahalla despite, he says, the fact that his disability prevents him from carrying such objects.
The prosecutor told the court that the case has two important aspects.
“Firstly, we’re living in an age of information: it is easy for anyone to obtain information, even those who haven’t been lucky enough to receive an education.
“Secondly, this case has a political aspect. Opposition groups called for a general strike. This call spread throughout Egypt but particularly so in Mahalla, he continued.
The prosecutor then referred to the fact that “29 of the 49 defendants have criminal records before quoting a Quranic verse which refers to people who “wreak havoc on earth.
This prompted an immediate and angry response from the defendants, who protested what they interpreted as the prosecutor labelling them “infidels.
Defendants shouted, cried and tore at their clothes, demanding that they be removed from the courtroom. The judge adjourned the session mid-pleadings.
The session resumed 10 minutes later when the judge announced that the court had accepted the defense’s demands, and that the trial would resume today, when witnesses would be heard and the prosecution would continue its pleadings.