TANTA: The Tanta emergency state security court adjourned Thursday the trial of 49 people from Mahalla accused of committing crimes during a demonstration earlier this year.
The next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 11.
During Thursday’s hearing the prosecutor continued his pleadings which had been interrupted on Wednesday after he quoted a Quranic verse in reference to the defendants.
The defendants protested what they said was the prosecutor labelling them as “infidels and presiding judge Mohamed Samir adjourned proceedings.
One of the defendants, Ahmed Abdel Moneim, relayed to Daily News Egypt through a lawyer that on Wednesday night the defendants spent the night on the floor of a cell on death row in Tanta prison without blankets, and were denied both food and water and the right to use the toilet.
Daily News Egypt was prevented by state security officers from speaking to defendants directly, or photographing them.
The prosecutor described the motives behind the crimes attributed to the defendants, and pointed to the evidence gathered by the public prosecution office against them.
Demonstrations against increasing food prices erupted in Mahalla on April 6 following the collapse of a strike in a spinning factory in Mahalla and a call for a general strike throughout Egypt by opposition groups.
“[The defendants] reached an agreement to make use of both the call for a general strike, and the exit of shift workers from the Misr Company for Spinning and Textiles, in order to agitate people and incite them into protesting, assembling illegally and committing rioting acts, the prosecutor told the court.
“The defendants were careful to choose a time when Mahalla’s streets would be crowded with [workers from the Misr Company factory]. This also coincides with the exit of public employees and school children, resulting in the streets being crowded with thousands of people.
“They spread throughout Mahalla and began chanting aggressive slogans and encouraging passers-by to join them. When police forces attempted to disperse them, they threw stones and Molotov cocktails at them and opened fire on the police.
Eyewitnesses, however, allege that the demonstrations in Mahalla began spontaneously and were initially peaceful.
Al-Dostour journalist Mostafa Bassiouni told a press conference held in April, “Demonstrators started moving along the central Bahr Street and chanting against high prices and poverty. When children started throwing rocks off a bridge at a train, demonstrators stopped them, and started chanting ‘rocks no, peace yes.’
Rights groups condemned the response of security forces to the demonstrations, which they say employed a disproportionate level of force and included the use of live ammunition.
A 15-year-old boy, Ali Mabrouk was killed by a live bullet while standing on the balcony of his third floor home.
The prosecutor alleged that defendants numbers one to10 were the ringleaders of, and planned, these acts and that they then brought defendants 11 to 41 into “their evil plan.
The prosecutor claimed that the ringleaders drew up a plan for each group of defendants and prepared knives, guns and Molotov cocktails.
The defendants allegedly looted two schools in Mahalla and set fire to them using Molotov cocktails, and are accused of criminal damage, theft of a police firearm and disrupting train services.
“These events resulted in damages worth LE 11 million as well as the death of three people and the injury of many others, the prosecutor told the court.
The prosecutor then went on to present the “conclusive evidence against the defendants.
“The first piece of evidence is confessions: defendants numbers 6, 11, 14 and 21 confessed during public prosecution office investigations that they took part in acts of rioting on April 6 and 7 and threw stones at police forces.
“Secondly, there are the police investigations carried out by state security investigations in partnership with criminal investigations forces, and which revealed that the defendants took part in and planned [the crimes they are accused of].
However their lawyers say that the defendants were arrested at various times between April 13 and 18 – none of them were arrested while in the act of committing the crimes alleged against them.
Egyptian daily Al-Badeel reported in June that one of the investigating officers told the public prosecution office during questioning that the case against the defendants is based in part on the accounts of police informers.
The prosecutor also said that property stolen from the two looted schools was found in defendants’ homes, and that a criminal evidence report had revealed that the fire which broke out in the schools had started at 35 different points, “proving that the fire started as a result of the defendants throwing Molotov cocktails at them.
The prosecution denied that the case against the defendants was politically- motivated.
“The defense will try to present the matter as a political issue, a conflict between the opposition and the ruling regime, and will try to give the events dimensions which alter their essential truth – which is that we are prosecuting evildoers, not revolutionaries, he said.
He also rejected claims that the acts of looting carried out in the two schools on April 6 and 7 were organized by the police and perpetrated by paid thugs, calling the claims “absurd .
At a press conference in April eyewitnesses who had seen the looting of the school claimed that it had been carried out by individuals in the pay of the police.
Journalist Alaa Shibl said that the looting was highly organized, allegedly carried out by well-known criminals who admitted to Shibl that they were acting upon the orders of the police.
Finally, the prosecutor rejected defense claims that some of the confessions had been extracted by torture, telling the court that no evidence of electric shocks had been found on defendants 9 and 25 and that such defense claims should therefore be dismissed.
In a statement issued last week Amnesty International condemned the failure to open an independent investigation into these allegations of torture.
The court also heard the testimony of a Central Security Forces recruit who was stationed in Mahalla during the clashes.
Mansour Hemeida, a member of the second Tanta brigade was deployed in Shoun Square during the clashes with orders to quell the violence.
He told the court that he witnessed violent clashes between the police and demonstrators, who were throwing lit tyres and Molotov cocktails at police forces.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Ahmed Seif El-Islam, Hemeida told the court that he was unable to remember seeing any of the defendants in Mahalla’s central Shoun Square during the events.
Hemeida also said that he couldn’t remember hearing gunshots coming from the protestors.
Hemeida’s questioning ended when defense lawyer Ahmed Hegazy alleged that his answers were being smuggled out to other witnesses waiting outside the courtroom.
Judge Samir then adjourned the hearing. A different judge will preside over the trial when it resumes in October, as Samir’s term ended on Thursday.