By Safaa Abdoun
CAIRO: The Port Said Criminal Court adjourned Tuesday the trial of 75 men accused in the deaths of over 70 football fans in Port Said to May 5 to hear the testimonies of the witnesses.
The court session was adjourned twice due to chaos caused by the defendants who were held inside a cage and repeatedly broke out in chants including “We either get their rights or die like them,” as well as Quran verses.
The trial will resume on May 5 for five consecutive days until May 9, where witnesses will give their testimonies, starting with the forensic doctors on the first day.
In addition, the court will also summon the Minister of Interior, the head of the National Council for Sports, the head of Al-Masry Club and the head of the Egyptian Football Association.
The attack on supporters of Ahly by Al-Masry fans after a match on Feb. 1 left scores injured and led to mass protests where a crackdown by security forces resulted in more fatalities.
Steel doors at the stadium were bolted shut, trapping fans trying to escape from the stands and dozens were crushed to death, eyewitnesses said at the time.
The 75 defendants include nine police officers in Port Said, three officials in Al-Masry Club and two defendants referred to a juvenile court.
The prosecution said in court that the defendants are charged with premeditated murder as they came to the match armed with white weapons and other fireworks with the intent of attacking Ahly fans due to prior disputes.
They also face charges of stealing from the victims — items such as mobile phones — as well as damaging public property.
The police officers and officials in Al-Masry Club face charges of premeditated murder through facilitation. According to the prosecution, they have permitted entrance to the stadium men carrying white weapons as well as allowing fans onto the field, shutting the doors and turning off the lights of the stadium.
The defendants pleaded not guilty and chanted “unfair prosecution” creating havoc inside the courtroom and leading the judge to adjourn the session.
Civil rights plaintiffs made a number of requests, including financial compensation to the victims and martyrs’ families, ranging between LE 10,001 to LE 100,001. Other requests were including the Minister of Interior and head of Al-Masry Club among the defendants. One lawyer requested that head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces be included.
Animosity dominates the relation between security and football fans groups, Ultras, who had a key role in keeping the momentum of mass protests during the 18 days that toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak and later street action.
The defendants’ lawyers mainly had one request and that is to have the trial take place in Port Said, saying that with the current security vacuum the defendants and their lawyers are at risk.
If it can’t be held in Port Said, the lawyers said, then it should take place at a neutral location where there is no hostility towards the people of Port Said, in this case the defendants and their lawyers.
Following the February deaths, hostility against Port Said residents was on the rise across the country. The province’s MPs complained repeatedly of media outlets fueling such hostility.
Outside the courtroom at the Police Academy, where the Mubark trial of is taking place, Ahly fans and members of the club’s Ultras gathered carrying the club’s flags and pictures of the martyrs, calling for justice.
“We want justice; justice is for those who murdered our brothers to get the death penalty. Any other sentence is unacceptable,” one fan said as he hurried to join his colleagues chanting in front of the courtroom.
Fans believe the massacre was carried out by fans of the Al-Masry, the club of Port Said governorate.
MPs representing Port Said had said that the police randomly arrested teenagers from the streets of the province, away from the stadium, an hour and half after the game.
Port Said policemen charged in connection with Egypt’s worst football disaster, which left more than 70 people dead in Port Said in February, appear behind a cage in a court room during their trial in police academy in Cairo on April 17. AFP Photo/Ahmed Hegazy
Al-Ahly club fans gather outside the Police Academy on the outskirts of Cairo on April 17, 2012, during the first session of the trial for accused officials and rioters in deadly football clashes after a match in Port Said. AFP Photo/Khaled Deso