Egyptian judge bans TV from Mubarak courtroom
CAIRO // After rock fights broke out outside the courthouse where Hosni Mubarak was on trial and rowdy lawyers inside the building delayed proceedings, a judge ruled that the high-profile court case would no longer be televised to "preserve the integrity" of the trial.
Judge Ahmed Refaat ordered that the case against Mr Mubarak and his two sons, Alaa and Gamal, be merged with the case against the former interior minister Habib El Adly. They were accused of multiple counts of corruption and conspiring to kill protesters during the revolution that toppled Mr Mubarak's regime on February 11. All the defendants have pled not guilty.
The decision not to televise the trial could renew protests in the streets of Cairo, said Ahmed Abd Rabo, who protested in Tahrir Square during the revolution.
"I am completely against the order by the judge," he said. "When we started our demonstrations, the government tried to make it hidden. This is the same action. Maybe we have to go to another protest in Tahrir Square."
As with the first hearing, much of Egypt paused as television screens across the country showed the ailing Mr Mubarak arrive at the makeshift courthouse inside a police academy on the outskirts of the capital. The former president, in a bed, was wheeled into the building, wearing a blue track suit, while his sons attempted to block the views of cameras. Alaa and Gamal stood by him during the hearing inside of a cage, wearing white prison uniforms and each carrying a Quran.
As civil-rights lawyers for some of the more than 800 people who died during the uprising clamoured to be heard, Mr Mubarak closed his eyes for extended periods. His only word was a hearty "present" called out when the judge said his name at the beginning.
The hearing was predominantly functional, giving the civil-rights lawyers the opportunity to make a motion to have their claims heard and allowing the judge - who is one of a three-person panel overseeing the case - to consolidate the case with that of Mr El Adly.
After about 40 minutes, Judge Refaat called a recess that lasted more than an hour. When he returned, he announced the live broadcast of the trial would end to "preserve the integrity" of the proceedings. He did not elaborate, but television commentators suggested that the skirmishes outside the hearing between pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters, as well as the bickering between the more than 100 lawyers representing families of the victims, had likely played a role.
Many members of the audience clapped after the announcements. As the defendants were ushered out of the cage, Alaa waved to the audience and Gamal made a "victory" sign. The trial will resume on September 5.
The decision marked a departure from the populist decision of the military government to broadcast the proceedings on state television and on massive screens around the trial. Pressure had been mounting on the government in the weeks before the trial after hundreds of protesters returned to "occupy" Tahrir Square because of dissatisfaction with the pace of reform after the revolution. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces responded by shaking up the cabinet and ensuring Mr Mubarak's trial took place on time, with Mr Mubarak himself appearing. It was widely believed among Egyptians that he would not attend the hearings.
But Egypt's judiciary has been known for its independence, even during the Mubarak regime, often ruling some executive decisions to have been unconstitutional and challenging the results of votes.
Judge Refaat appeared earnest and detail-orientated during the hearing, but the complexity of the trial was evident in the proceedings. Dozens of lawyers had asked to be heard by the court, a situation that Judge Refaat called a "burden" for the court to handle.
Taha El Sherif, the former head of the Court of Cassation, said the trial held great symbolism because throngs of police officers used to applaud Mr Mubarak in the very same room. Now, he was the first Arab leader to be tried in person after the uprisings that have spread from Tunisia throughout the region.
"Now he is on trial, inside of a cage," he said. Still, he said that lawyers from both sides of the room were attempting to turn the trial into a piece of theatre with their antics.
"Some of the people inside the court are not serious about letting this hearing move forward," he said.
Published: August 16, 2011 04:00 AM