Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak sentenced to life in prison for complicity in killing of protesters
Leila Fadel and Ernesto Londoño
CAIRO — Ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his former interior minister were sentenced to life in prison Saturday for complicity in the killing of protesters during the 2011 winter revolt that turned once-untouchable despots into defendants.
The sentence made Mubarak the first autocrat targeted in the Arab Spring revolts to face trial in the country he once ruled.
After the verdict was handed down, Mubarak was ferried aboard a helicopter to Tora Prison’s military hospital. The former strongman suffered a heart attack on the helicopter as he wept and briefly refused to disembark and enter the prison, according to a medical official who was not authorized to speak to reporters.
This marks the first time Mubarak has entered a prison after being housed at another military hospital, without a prison wing, since his detention in April 2011.
The three-judge panel that presided over the landmark case acquitted the former president, his two sons and a business tycoon of corruption charges, citing a statute of limitation, not evidentiary problems. The judges also acquitted six senior police officials in the killings of demonstrators due to lack of evidence.
The sentences unleashed mixed reactions. Anti-Mubarak protesters initially rejoiced outside the heavily secured courthouse as firecrackers popped in the background. As the defendants were whisked out of their cage, people inside the courtroom broke into angry chants condemning the acquittals.
“The people want the downfall of the judiciary,” some spectators screamed.
The verdict has the potential to jolt Egypt’s presidential runoff race, as a former Mubarak prime minister faces off against the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group banned and besieged by the former government.
Ayman Nour, a renowned opposition figure who was jailed after running against Mubarak for the presidency, responded to the verdict by endorsing the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, against Ahmed Shafiq, who served as Mubarak’s prime minister.
“The verdict today was shocking and did not meet legal prediction,” a statement from Nour’s office said. It said Nour was “astonished” by the acquittal of top security officials and would support Morsi against the Mubarak-era figure.
Outside the courtroom, thousands of riot police stood guard and armored vehicles lined up to protect the building. Police rushed the crowd of mostly anti-Mubarak protesters after the verdict was announced, chasing them from the police academy adjacent to the courtroom and across the street.
Soad Mohammad, 57, burst into tears. Her son Mahmour Toukhy, a soldier, was shot and killed because he refused to follow orders to shoot prisoners at the detention facility where he was stationed during the revolt, she said.
“We will go to Tahrir again,” Mohammad said, referring to Cairo’s main square and the heart of the uprising. Noting that no one was convicted for ordering the killing of protesters and Mubarak was not sentenced to death, she added: “[Mubarak] has been living. He’s been sleeping in seven-star conditions. . . . We can’t even live.”
Nearby, 58-year-old Mohammad Attian walked in silence carrying a sign that read, “Balance of justice, beware: The perpetrator is a corrupt regime, its defense is its remnants, and the deceased is your mother, Egypt.”
Mubarak attended the hearing on a stretcher, wearing dark sunglasses. He lay cross-armed, expressionless and motionless inside a black iron cage, as his sons, standing in front of him, sought to shield their 84-year-old father from cameras inside the courtroom.
Before announcing the verdict, presiding judge Ahmed Refaat described the 2011 revolution as a historic turning point for the nation as Egyptians rose up in pursuit of dignity.
“As the sun rose on January 25 over Egypt, a new era was ushered in,” Refaat said. “A bright day loomed large for the great people of Egypt with new hope they long yearned for.”
Mubarak and his former interior minister, Habib al-Adli, will almost certainly appeal the convictions. The prosecution’s failure to secure convictions in the charges filed against the six senior police officers disappointed activists, who noted that no one was held accountable for actually killing the nearly 1,000 people who died during the winter revolt. Instead, Mubarak and Adli were convicted on the basis of their failure to stop the killings, rather than of ordering the killings.
Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the outcome “highlighted the really bad job of the prosecution.”
She predicted that the acquittals would trigger anger, particularly because the head of the country’s riot police was not found guilty.
“I don’t think this will satisfy people,” she said. “It’s a reflection of the fact that this was a very badly investigated case. It should have never gone to trial if they didn’t have enough evidence.”
Hundreds of Egyptians streamed into Tahrir Square and the streets of the port city of Alexandria to voice their anger at the ruling. Many were rejecting the judge’s decision, calling it “political,” as well as the acquittal of all the top security officials involved except Adli.
“The revolution will return,” men in Alexandria chanted.
Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.
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