Feared Egypt security chief jailed for 12 years

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Egypt has sentenced the country's widely despised former interior minister to 12 years in jail, the first conviction of an official in Hosni Mubarak's regime since the president was ousted from power nearly three months ago.

The trial of Habib el-Adly, who led the country's powerful security apparatus, has been viewed within Egypt as a critical test of whether the generals now running the country have the will to hold to account officials from the former government for widespread abuse of power.

In a packed courtroom, a Cairo judge sentenced the former security henchman to seven years for corruption and five years for money laundering, and fined him 15m Egyptian pounds ($2.5m). But Adly still faces the much graver charge of giving the order to kill civilians during the 18-day uprising, as well as misusing public funds. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. "This is just an appetiser," wrote Khaled Tawfeek on a Facebook page commemorating an activist who died in police custody. "Let's hold our breath [for] when he falls for killing protesters."

Adly has been held along with roughly 30 senior members of the old regime, including the deposed prime minister and Mr Mubarak's two sons, following the uprising. Most face corruption charges, but some will face allegations related to the handling of the protests. Adly will next appear in court on 21 May to face trial for the deaths of protesters.

Mr Mubarak, 82, has also been detained on similar charges and the country's justice minister has warned that the former president, who is convalescing in hospital after a heart attack, could face the death penalty if convicted.

One of Egypt's most publicly reviled officials, Adly was the public face behind the feared security services, which tortured its citizens with impunity. Fury at police brutality was one of the primary reasons for the uprising, with the Police Day holiday on 25 January chosen as the first day of the protests.

More than 800 people were killed during the nearly three weeks of protests, many of them shot in the head and upper body, which has been used as evidence by some that security forces aimed to kill.

Besides allegations that he instigated a brutal crackdown in the first days of the protests, Adly is also held responsible for the police vanishing from the streets on 28 January, leading to clashes between protesters, plain-clothes security forces and the army. Some believe that the withdrawal was designed to sow chaos, and allege that the ex-minister released criminals on to the streets by leaving prisons unguarded.

The ruling military council, which took power after Mr Mubarak stepped down on 11 February, has struggled to respond to renewed calls by protesters in recent weeks to bring former officials to trial quickly, and to speed up the transition to democracy.

The generals have said that elections will go ahead in September, but they have been criticised for a continued crackdown on activists despite pledging to uphold free speech.