CAIRO: The trial of 25 men accused of belonging to a terrorist organisation, known as the “Zeitoun case, began Sunday, amid a heavy security presence.
Two lines of policemen prevented journalists and defendants’ relatives who arrived after the session had begun from getting anywhere near the courtroom. Inside, lawyers told Daily News Egypt, the dock in which defendants stand during trials was cordoned off by two rows of policemen, preventing family members from talking to the defendants, many of whom had only seen their families once – or not at all – since their arrest in June and July last year.
Iman Hussein described the arrest of her brother Mohamed.
“They came to the house at 3 am and took him away when he was half asleep and crying. They blindfolded him. He was saying, ‘what’s going on? what is it?’ He had absolutely no idea why they were taking him, Iman Hussein said.
“The next time we saw him was during Ramadan [August/September 2009] at the public prosecution office. We had to cry, to beg to be allowed to spend five minutes with him, she continued.
Daily News Egypt spoke to the relatives of four defendants, all of whom related similar stories of dawn arrests followed by disappearances.
The men, two of whom are Palestinian and one of whom is on the run, are charged with a range of offences related to their alleged membership of a terrorist cell called “Sarayet El-Walaa wal Baraa (The Brigade of Loyalty and Exoneration), and three of its members are accused of attacking the Cleopatra jewellery store in June 2009 with the aim of stealing jewellery in order to fund their activities. Three men were killed during the robbery.
The charge sheet alleges that the first defendant, Mohamed Fahim Abdel-Halim, created the group in order to overthrow the “infidel ruling regime, to attack foreigners, policemen and Christians, and target public installations as well as vessels passing through the Suez Canal.
The defendants are accused of viewing “Jihadist websites and running training courses on how to make explosives. It is alleged that that they constructed mobile phone-detonated bombs, and also attempted to salvage parts of a World War II bomb and develop it into an explosive by using a GPS device.
It is also alleged that the third defendant, Ahmed El-Sayyed Shaarawy, picked up a foreign tourist at Cairo Airport in his taxi with the intention of kidnapping and murdering him, “but failed to carry out the plan because of security procedures at the Airport, the charge sheet reads.
Defence lawyer Haitham Mohamadain and Ahmed Ezzat allege that procedural violations have occurred during the interrogation of the defendants.
They say that lawyers were initially prevented from seeing the defendants after their arrest and disappearance, and were interrogated in the presence of lawyers appointed by the public prosecution office who Mohamadain contends are not independent.
The defence team also suspects that some of the defendants were tortured. According to Ezzat, at least one of the defendants, Mohamed Saleh Abdel-Fattah, told the public prosecution office that he had been given electric shocks over the course of two weeks, and had been treated for the injuries he received in the location in which he was being detained.
“It is clear that they were too scared to say that they had been tortured, Ezzat maintained, adding that at the time of their interrogation they were being held in the custody of security bodies.
Mohamadain says that when the defendants appeared at public prosecution interrogations they kept their eyes tightly shut until a police officer instructed they open them, which he suggests is indicative of the treatment defendants had been receiving in detention.
The trial is being heard in an emergency state security court, which critics allege fails to provide fair trial guarantees. Defendants have no right of appeal to a higher court if convicted of the charges against them, some of which carry the death sentence.
During yesterday’s court session lawyers requested that they be allowed to talk to their clients before proceedings began, a request which was ignored by the court.
They also demanded that they be given a complete copy of the case file; according to Mohamadain, 106 pages of the over 3,000-page file the defence team received are missing.
All the defendants pleaded innocent.
Amal Shabana, the mother of defendant Mohamed Fahim, says that at the time the group were allegedly carrying out the illegal activities they are accused of, Fahim was at home recovering from a serious car accident.
Iman Hussein emphasized the impossibility of her brother being involved in the actions ascribed to him, saying that “in the months before he was taken he wasn’t even praying regularly .
Nasser Mostafa, father of Mostafa Nasr Mostafa, said that his 33-year-old son “kept to himself, watched TV, went to the cinema which he said indicated the impossibility of his son being involved in religious extremism.
Mostafa has not spoken to his son since he was arrested on July 1 last year after which he disappeared for three months.
The trial resumes on March 20, 2010.