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Hosni Mubarak trial takes surprise turn

The prosecution in the case against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called witnesses to reveal who ordered police to shoot at protesters. Instead, they denied knowing of any such orders.

Anti-Mubarak protesters display posters of their relatives who were killed by the security during the Egyptian revolution as they protest outside the police academy court in Cairo, Wednesday, Sept. 7. The ousted President returned to court for a fourth hearing in his trial on charges of corruption and complicity in the killing of protesters during the 18-day-uprising that toppled him.

Khalil Hamra/AP

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The high-profile trial against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak took a surprise turn this week, underscoring the challenge of achieving swift justice for Egypt – and heightening concerns about the strength of the state's hastily prepared case.

The former president and six of his top security chiefs are charged with ordering police to open fire on the protesters during the uprising that ousted him and left more than 800 dead – many from gunshot wounds. When Mr. Mubarak's trial reconvened Monday after a three-week break, prosecutors called key witnesses to say who gave orders to fire live ammunition into the crowds earlier this year.

Instead, at least four of the witnesses for the prosecution reversed what they had earlier told investigators, saying that they were unaware of any orders to use deadly force, or that the police were only armed with non-lethal weapons.

The testimony embarrassed the prosecution and fulfilled the warnings of rights advocates and transitional justice experts that holding a quick trial, prosecuted by officials who are former members of Mubarak’s regime, may not yield real justice that will satisfy Egyptians and enable Egypt to move past the Mubarak era.

“Unfortunately, this assures me that what we said before is true: that the investigations were not serious and were not accurate,” says Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer who is representing some of the victims' family members. “We think there will be a conviction, but we hope that the conviction will be based on serious investigations and on the crimes that Mubarak committed, and not because of the pressure of the people.”

But given the way the trial is progressing, “We’re not optimistic,” he says.

One witness briefly detained for perjury


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