Egypt's Mubarak sentenced to life in prison

 

Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison today for failing to stop the killing of protesters during the uprising that forced him from power last year. The ousted president and his sons were acquitted, however, of corruption charges in a mixed verdict that swiftly provoked a new wave of anger on Egypt's streets.

After the sentencing, the 84-year old Mubarak suffered a "health crisis" while on a helicopter flight to a Cairo prison hospital, according to security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. One state media report said it was a heart attack, but that could not immediately be confirmed.

The officials said Mubarak cried in protest and resisted leaving the helicopter that took him to a prison hospital for the first time since he was detained in April 2011. Mubarak stayed at a regular hospital in his favorite Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh from his arrest until his trial began in on 3 August. The officials said he insisted on the helicopter that he be flown to the military hospital on the eastern outskirts of Cairo where he has stayed during the trial.

Earlier, Mubarak sat stone-faced and frowning in the courtroom's metal defendants' cage while judge Ahmed Rifaat read out the conviction and sentence against him, showing no emotion with his eyes concealed by dark sunglasses. His sons Gamal and Alaa looked nervous but also did not react to either the conviction of their father or their own acquittals.

Mubarak was convicted of complicity in the killing of some 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising that forced him to resign in February 2011. He and his two sons were acquitted of corruption charges, along with a a family friend who is on the run.

Rifaat delivered a strongly worded statement before handing down the sentences. He described Mubarak's era as "30 years of darkness" and "a darkened nightmare" that ended only when Egyptians rose up to demand change.

"They peacefully demanded democracy from rulers who held a tight grip on power," the judge said about the 25 January to 11 February uprising last year.

Angered by the acquittals of the Mubarak sons and six top police officers, lawyers for the victims' families broke out chanting inside the courtroom as soon as Rifaat finished reading the verdict.

"The people want to cleanse the judiciary," they chanted. Some raised banners that read: "God's verdict is execution."

The charges related to killing protesters carried a possible death sentence that the judge chose not to impose, opting instead to send Mubarak to prison for the rest of his life.

Outside the courtroom on the outskirts of the capital, there was jubilation initially when the conviction was announced, with one man falling to his knees and prostrating himself in prayer on the pavement and others dancing, pumping fists in the air and shooting off fireworks.

But that scene soon descended into tensions and scuffles, as thousands of riot police in helmets and shields held the restive, mostly anti-Mubarak crowd back behind a cordon protecting the court.

Later, thousands of protesters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of the uprising, and in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria on Egypt's northern coast. They chanted slogans denouncing the trial as "theatrical" and against the ruling generals who took over for Mubarak, led by his former defense minister. "Execute them, execute them!" chanted the protesters in Alexandria.

Mubarak and his former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly, who was in charge of the police and other security forces at the time of the uprising, were convicted of failing to act to stop the killings during the opening days of the revolt, when the bulk of protesters died. El-Adly also received a life sentence.

Most of the dead were either shot or run over by police vehicles in Cairo and a string of major cities across the country.

Mubarak and his sons — one-time heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa — were acquitted on corruption charges, with the judge citing a 10-year statute of limitations that had lapsed since the alleged crimes were committed.

Just days before the verdict was made public, the state prosecutor leveled new charges of insider trading against the two sons. It now appears that these charges may have been an attempt to head off new public outrage once the acquittals of the Mubarak sons were made public.

It has appeared all along that prosecutions since Mubarak's fall targeting relatively few high level officials and their cronies have been motivated largely by a desire to appease public anger expressed in massive street protests that continued long after Mubarak's ouster.

Scores of policemen charged with killing protesters have either been acquitted or received light sentences, angering relatives of the victims and the pro-democracy youth groups behind the uprising.

Rock-throwing and fist fights outside the courtroom left at least 20 people injured, and a police official said that four people were arrested.

Thousands of riot police and policemen riding horses had cordoned off the building to prevent protesters and relatives of those slain during the uprising from getting too close. Hundreds stood outside, waving Egyptian flags and chanting slogans demanding "retribution." Some spread Mubarak's picture on the asphalt and walked over it.

Mubarak's verdict came just days after presidential elections have been boiled down to a 16-17 June contest between Mubarak's last prime minister, one-time protege Ahmed Shafiq, and Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamist group that Mubarak persecuted for most of his years in power.

AP

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