TANTA: The trial of 49 individuals on charges allegedly committed in Mahalla during the events of April 6 and 7 concluded Thursday with defense pleadings.
The Tanta Emergency State Security Court which heard the case will issue its verdict on Dec. 15.
Two of the defendants were released Thursday. Essam Ibrahim was accused of storing stolen goods at an address he has not lived at since 2001, as was established during Saturday’s court session.
Also released was Ahmed Farhana. Farhana had began shouting during Thursday’s session, in some distress, and while the court did not say so explicitly, defense lawyer Hamdy El-Assiouty said that this was because he was clearly mentally disabled and could not be held responsible for his actions.
The judge hearing the case prolonged court sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, in order to hear the pleadings of the more than 10 defense lawyers representing the group of 49 defendants.
Ahmed Seif El-Islam argued the unconstitutionality of the emergency state security court.
He told the court that Military Order 1, issued in 1971, gives the military ruler (the President of Egypt) the power to transfer certain cases from the ordinary judiciary to emergency state security courts whose composition he can decide.
Seif El-Islam argued that this, together with the absence of an appeal before a higher judicial body and the fact that verdicts issued by emergency state security courts must be approved by the President, rendered them in violation of the Egyptian Constitution’s provisions on the independence of the judiciary and its guarantees of a fair trial.
He pointed to three cases against the Egyptian government currently before the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights one of which concerns death sentences handed down to three men found guilty of carrying out the 2004 Taba bombings.
Convicted by an emergency state security court, the three men do not have the right of appeal, which forms one of the bases of the case against the Egyptian government.
In reaching its verdict, Seif El-Islam urged the Tanta court “not to force us to have to recourse to the African Commission again.
Seif El-Islam also argued that with combining of functions of both bringing charges and investigation in a single body, the public prosecution office (PPO) is in violation of the Constitution.
He argued that the PPO investigation records in this case demonstrated that it “had allowed its role of bringing charges to take precedence over that of its investigatory role.
As an example of this Seif El-Islam pointed to the charges against one defendant who is accused of stealing a computer monitor from a school in Mahalla and stashing it under a bed in his home.
Seif El-Islam said that the PPO “had not troubled itself to check whether the monitor would in fact fit underneath the bed.
The defense team alleges that the contradictions in the state security investigations reports and the fact that none of the defendants were arrested while in the act of committing the crimes imputed against them and exposed a plan by state security investigations to make the 48 men and 1 women “scapegoats for the events of April 6 and 7 in Mahalla.
Defendants 1-10 are accused of together plotting a mass gathering with the aim of committing criminal acts which they are then alleged to have carried out with the other defendants.
Some of the charges against the defendants carry prison sentences of up to 15 years.
It is the defense team’s case that the crowds which gathered in Mahalla on April 6 did so in a peaceful expression of their discontent about rising food prices in Egypt.
Seif El-Islam alleged that violence erupted when a police officer assaulted an elderly woman in front of crowds in Mahalla’s central Shoun Square.
“Political will wants a scapegoat for the events of April 6 because they’re the first of their kind since January 1977, lawyer Sayyed Fathy told the court.
Fathy pointed to the absence of banners bearing political slogans during the demonstrations in Mahalla as evidence that they expressed social and economic, rather than political, grievances.
Security forces were widely criticized for their heavy-handed use of force – including live ammunition – against protestors. Three people were killed during the events.
Fathy pointed to the heavy use of anonymous sources used by the police, and the fact that many of these sources merely relayed to the police second-hand information.
He quoted a Cassation Court judgment which stated that the basing of a court verdict on “a testimony delivered from an unknown source is invalid.
Lawyer Ahmed Ezzat questioned why none of the defendants were arrested while in the act of committing the crimes alleged against them.
He told the court that 11 people were held at the time stores in Mahalla were vandalized (and subsequently released by the PPO) and questioned why not a single defendant accused of vandalizing and looting the stores was arrested at the scene.
He alleged that the framing by state security investigations of individuals with past criminal convictions is a long-standing practice.
The defense team allege serious violations of procedural guarantees: at least three of the defendants were questioned without the presence of a lawyer. Others were illegally detained in state security investigations headquarters without charge.
Seif El-Islam argued that the torture of defendant Hamada Tawfik invalidates the confessions made by some of the defendants. He told the court that it is sufficient to torture a single defendant in order to spread fear amongst co-defendants where they are kept together in a single cell and witness the torture’s after-effects.
During Thursday’s session three IT teachers at the Taha Hussein and Abdel Hay Khalil schools in Mahalla gave evidence that the computer equipment brought into the courtroom as evidence – which the prosecution alleges the defendants stole from the schools – had never in fact belonged to either school.
“The logical outcome of the investigations, and investigations reports containing false information should be the invalidation of all the PPO investigations in this case, Seif El-Islam told the court.
“The police claim that they discovered the existence of the ‘organization’ created by the defendants through surveillance of meetings between them before April 6. However, police surveillance only began on April 11.
“The only logical conclusion is that the people involved in the investigation had magical powers enabling them to see into the past, Seif El-Islam said.