Witnesses Deny Mubarak Gave Orders To Shoot

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The trial of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resumed in Cairo Wednesday. On orders from the judge, cameras and recording equipment will no longer be allowed in the courtroom. Witnesses for the prosecution have said Mubarak did not give orders to shoot protesters.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is in Afghanistan. Im Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, host:

And Im David Greene.

Let's follow up now, on two nations that have changed their governments during whats known as the Arab Spring. Both nations face the problem of what to do with their former leaders. Libya's Moammar Gadhafi is still in hiding. And in a moment, we'll have on an update on an effort to bring order there.

INSKEEP: We start with the trial of Egypt's former President Hosni Mubarak. He is charged, among other things, with ordering the shooting of protesters. But witnesses, so far, have not said he did it.

NPRs Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is covering this story from Cairo. Hi, Soraya.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: So, these are prosecution witnesses, now, who are not backing up the prosecution's claim, their allegation that Mubarak was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people. What's going on?

NELSON: Well, it certainly must be a great disappointment to the prosecutors, because witness after witness, since starting on Monday and then continuing today has gotten up there and said, we had no orders to shoot shoot live ammunition at protestors. We were told to use water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets; and in fact, if anybody was cited for an order, it was the head of the general security forces, a guy by the name of Ramzy.

But then, what was surprising, today, is with this continuing, is that the prosecutors finally got fed up.

INSKEEP: Fed up, and so what did they do?

NELSON: Well, they asked the judge to cite the fifth witness basically, the first witness today for perjury. This was a major or a captain, depending on what accounts you read, because we're getting this via tweets from inside the courtroom. Captain or major, by the name of Mohammed Abdel-Hakim Omar(ph), who was testifying, basically in contradiction to what he had told prosecutors before. He claimed he didn't know of any shoot-to-kill order, either, and that he only saw that live ammunition was being used, based on what he was watching on television. And again, claimed no knowledge of any orders coming down from the interior minister, because, I mean, even though the order, perhaps, wouldn't have come directly to these officers, from Mubarak. If it came from the interior minister, then, by implication, Mubarak would also be involved.

So this witness was, in fact, taken into custody ordered by the judge, taken into custody for perjury.

INSKEEP: So, it sounds like the suspicion of the prosecutors is that witnesses after witness either changed their story or were persuaded to change the story.

NELSON: Yes, it's unclear I mean, this certainly is what people are saying not just prosecutors, but people in the courtroom, civil rights lawyers, representatives for the families of the victims they feel there's either pressure brought to bear on these security force witnesses, or that, in fact, they are conspiring in some way. But one has to remember that, if they implicate themselves by saying, yes, we did shoot people, or we did pass on this order to shoot people, that they themselves could face the death penalty which is what Mubarak and his interior minister face if implicated in these deaths.

INSKEEP: Well, going into this trial, how much confidence was there in the justice system, confidence that they could handle a case like this in a competent way?

NELSON: Well, there were certainly some concerns, given the fact that this whole system of government and jurisprudence here in Egypt is something that's been developed under the umbrella of Mubarak, of during his three decades of rule here. But people have faith in this judge. He seems to be somebody who's considered very honest and he's been trying to get control of this courtroom, which has become quite a circus.

INSKEEP: A circus, but no longer a televised circus.

NELSON: Now that's true, the judge has not gone against his earlier decision to no-longer televise these proceedings. The one on Monday was not broadcast and the one today is not being broadcast, either. But people I mean it's not a closed door hearing in the sense that nobody is allowed to get in. If you're able to persuade the authorities that you have business there and this would be civil rights lawyers, um, it's including some journalists, in fact they have been inside and they are using their phones to send updates via Twitter, um, messages, emails, that sort of thing. I mean, Twitter seems to be the main tool that's being used, right now, to keep those of us outside appraised of what's going on.

INSKEEP: And very briefly, there were already high emotions around this trial, the apparent catastrophe of the prosecution's case, at least so far, has got to make the emotions run even higher.

NELSON: We talked to one father, today, who lost a 10 year old son, who was apparently was shot by police during the attacks on protestors. And he was so angry that and he says that he doesn't trust this trial anymore and that he's planning to take justice into his own hands.

INSKEEP: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Cairo. Soraya, thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Steve.

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