A Cairo judge recused himself from the retrial of ousted President Hosni Mubarak on charges linked to protesters’ deaths, referring the case to another court.
Judge Mostafa Hassan Abdullah’s withdrawal adds delay to a trial that families of about 850 people killed during the January 2011 uprising see as justice denied. Mubarak, 84, is facing a retrial after his first conviction and life sentence were overturned.
Unlike the first trial, Mubarak waved to his supporters several times from inside a cage, and was seen laughing and smiling with one of his two sons, both of whom were also with him in the metal enclosure. As he was wheeled in, a supporter yelled, “we love you,” and another shouted, “we’re sorry, president,” and frantically waved at the former leader.
“If I had any suspicions he committed the massacres he’s accused of, I wouldn’t have been here,” Abeer Hosni, 40, said in an interview from inside the courtroom. “But I’m certain he’s innocent.”
Abdullah cited unease, without elaborating in court. The judge’s comment means there are external factors that may be seen as affecting his ability to fairly review the case, Ahmed Atia Abo-Shosha, a prosecutor with the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest appeals court, said in a phone interview.
In scenes reminiscent of his first trial, Mubarak was wheeled into the defendant’s cage on a stretcher, after arriving by helicopter at the police academy where the hearing was held.
After the judge read his decision, the court erupted into rival chants, with Mubarak’s opponents clapping and yelling, “the people want the execution of the ousted” president, and his supporters responding with: “Down, down with the rule of the murshid,” in a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood’s top leader.
The trial opened as Mubarak’s successor, Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, faces mounting and frequently violent protests. Mursi’s opponents say he has advanced the interests of the Brotherhood, which fielded him for office, while failing to pursue the goals of the revolution against Mubarak, including improving living standards, expanding political freedom and bolstering the independence of the judiciary.
Mubarak had been held initially at a prison hospital ward, before being moved to the nearby military hospital amid reports of his failing health.
“Transitional justice has not been served,” Ashraf el-Sherif, a political science lecturer at the American University in Cairo, said by phone. “Dismantling the institutions of the former regime has not happened and the hope for a new justice system has not been realized. All of this cements the belief that many people hold that the revolution has gradually boiled down to nothing.”
With Mubarak in the cage was his long-time interior minister, Habib el-Adli, whose life sentence was also overturned, and six other top security officials who had been acquitted in the first trial.
Mubarak supporters outside the fortified police academy hoisting banners reading, “Mubarak has stepped down, and security and peace disappeared,” a reference to increased lawlessness.
Some families of the victims carried homemade nooses. Police formed a human barrier to keep the two camps apart.
Mubarak and el-Adli’s sentencing, which was overturned in January, failed to appease activists in the 18-day uprising, especially after the acquittal of six security officials. Their acquittals were read as opening the door for Mubarak to appeal his sentence.
Prosecution of the former president has been a key demand of protesters, who say Mursi must follow through on promises to hold the old regime accountable.
The first Mubarak trial, in which he was charged with complicity in the killing of protesters, opened in August 2011 and was frequently chaotic, with fistfights erupting in the makeshift courtroom. The court sentenced him in June last year for failing to prevent the killings, in a verdict that triggered protests.
Lawyers representing the victims and their families in that trial criticized the prosecution evidence as weak and hastily assembled.
“If the new trial is based on the same incomplete evidence presented before, the result will not be good and an acquittal will be more likely than a conviction,” Hoda Nasrallah, a lawyer, said by phone. “This is a case in which the police are both the accused and the party that is supposed to be collecting evidence against itself. It is not right.”