Protests have broken out in Egypt over the acquittal of leading officials in the regime of ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Human rights groups have welcomed the conviction of Mubarak for his role in the deaths of peaceful protesters. But they are angry that most of Mubarak's key allies have either been found not guilty or had the charges against them dropped.
News that Mubarak has been sentenced to life imprisonment was welcomed by Amnesty International as “a significant step towards combating long-standing impunity in Egypt”. But they said that the aquittal of his colleagues means that the trial failed to “deliver justice”.
Mubarak's former Minister of the Interior Habib Adly was sentenced to life imprisonment on the same charges as his former President. However, the acquittal of all the other defendants, including senior security officials, has triggered anger.
Amnesty's Ann Harrison said that the organisation had always welcomed the trial of Mubarak and his colleagues.
But she added, “The trial and verdict have today left the families of those killed, as well as those injured in the protests, in the dark about the full truth of what happened to their loved ones and it failed to deliver full justice”.
Harrison called on the Egyptian authorities to “establish an independent and impartial commission of inquiry to fill the gap that the court left open”.
Six senior security officials, including former head of the now-disbanded State Security Investigations service (SSI), were acquitted.
Some 840 protesters were killed and more than 6,000 injured during the uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on 11 February 2011.
Corruption charges against two of Mubarak’s sons, Gamal and Alaa, and his business associate Hussein Salem, who was tried in absentia, were dropped.
Upon hearing the verdict, many in the court room started shouting “the people want to clean up the judiciary”, unsatisfied that all the other defendants were acquitted.
The prosecution has said in its pleadings that it received too little co-operation from the General Intelligence’s national security unit and the Ministry of Interior for it to gather more evidence.
Harrison argued, ““This lack of co-operation no doubt had implications for the verdict, but more importantly undermines the rule of law and prevents the families of the victims and those injured from knowing all the facts as far as they are concerned.”
Throughout the various sessions of the trials, many family members were not allowed into the courtroom. Amnesty report that on some occasions they were subjected to police beatings and intimidation. At other times, they clashed with pro-Mubarak supporters.
Amnesty said that there should have been a verdict that makes clear that no-one is now above the law in Egypt. But, contrary to requests by the prosecution, they insisted that serious human rights violations in the past can and must be addressed without recourse to the death penalty.
In the Egyptian legal criminal system, Mubarak and others have a right to appeal before Egypt’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, which will review the application of the law and the procedures but will not re-examine the factual evidence presented. The prosecution is also entitled to file appeals.
Over the 30 years during which Mubarak was in power human rights violations were committed with impunity, especially by the officers of the now dissolved State Security Investigations agency. Many see the acquittal of all the senior security officials as a sign that those responsible for human rights violations can still escape justice.
Over the last year many police officers directly accused of killing protesters during the uprising were acquitted, triggering anger and frustrations amongst relatives of the victims and complaints that the justice system after the 25 January Revolution is continuing to fail them.
Critics insist that such trials must be an opportunity for the injured and the families of those killed not only to get justice, but also to learn the truth about what happened. Amnesty say they should ensure victims receive full and effective reparation, including rehabilitation, for the violations they have suffered.