Hosni Mubarak faces justice from his bed

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The Independent Online

Former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak was dragged into public court in his hospital bed today to face charges of being behind the deaths of hundreds of protesters who helped cause his downfall.





As a stunned nation watched on live TV, the ailing, 83-year-old, lying ashen-faced inside a metal defendants' cage with his two sons standing beside him in white prison uniforms, claimed he was not guilty.



Many Egyptians savoured the images of the man who ruled with unquestionable power for 29 years, during which opponents were tortured, corruption was rife, poverty spread and political life was stifled.



After widespread scepticism that Egypt's military rulers would allow one of their own - a former head of the air force - to be prosecuted in front of the world, the scene went a long way to satisfy one of the key demands that has united protesters since February 11, when Mubarak fell following an 18-day uprising.



It was the first time Egyptians have seen him since February 10, when he gave a defiant TV address refusing to resign.



A prosecutor read the charges against Mubarak - that he was an accomplice along with his then-interior minister in the "intentional and premeditated murder of peaceful protesters" and that he and his sons received gifts from a prominent businessman in return for guaranteeing him a lowered price in a land deal with the state.



"Yes, I am here," Mubarak said from his bed, raising his hand slightly when the judge asked him to identify himself and enter a plea. "I deny all these accusations completely," he said into a microphone, wagging his finger. His sons also pleaded not guilty.



The court session was largely taken up by procedural measures as lawyers from both sides filed motions.



Mubarak was flown in just before the session from Sharm el-Sheikh, the Red Sea resort where he has been under arrest at a hospital since April.



A sheet pulled up to his chest, he was wheeled into the defendants' cage on a hospital bed at the session's start.



After weeks of reports from Sharm that he was in a coma, unable to speak and refusing to eat, he looked less frail than many had imagined he might. Although he was pale and his eyes were ringed with red, his hair was dyed black, he was awake, alert and even had a moment of his characteristic defiance, wagging his finger as he denied the charges.



With him in the cage were his nine co-defendants, including his two sons - one-time heir apparent Gamal and wealthy businessman Alaa - his former interior minister Habib el-Adly, and six top former police officials.



From time to time, Mubarak craned his head to see the proceedings. Other times, he crooked his elbow over his face as if in exhaustion. While the other defendants sat on wooden benches in the cage, the 47-year-old Gamal and 49-year-old Alaa stood next to their father's bed, at one point with their arms crossed on their chest seemingly trying to block the court camera's view of their father.



After several hours, the judge adjourned Mubarak and his sons' trial until August 15 and ordered he be held at the International Medical Centre, a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo, and that an oncologist be among the doctors monitoring him. That was one of the strongest indications yet that Mubarak has cancer after months of unconfirmed reports.



Up to the last minute, many Egyptians had doubted that Mubarak would actually appear at the trial, expecting health issues would be used as an excuse for him to stay away.



His healthier than expected appearance could raise demands that he be held in prison like his sons rather than "in the cushy hospital," the anti-Mubarak activist group "We are all Khaled Said" said.



The trial came only after heavy pressure by activists on the now ruling military - one of the few demands that still unites the disparate protest movement. It answers, at least partially, a growing clamour in Egypt for justice not only for the wrongs of Mubarak's authoritarian regime but also for the violent suppression of the largely peaceful uprising, in which 850 protesters were killed.



In February, as protests raged around him, Mubarak vowed he would die on Egyptian soil. The last time Egyptians saw him, he appeared on state TV, handing most of his powers to his vice president but refusing to resign. He proclaimed he was "adamant to continue to shoulder my responsibility."



The next day, his resignation was announced and Mubarak fled to a palatial residence in Sharm el-Sheikh. The ruling generals who took power from him - and who were all appointed by Mubarak before the uprising - appeared reluctant to prosecute him, but protests flared anew, pressuring action.



In April, Mubarak was moved to the Sharm el-Sheikh hospital and put under arrest while his sons and former cronies were held in Cairo's Torah Prison.



The prosecution is an unprecedented moment in the Arab world, the first time a modern Middle East leader has been put on trial fully by his own people.

AP

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