The failure to build a convincing case against the Battle of the Camel defendants has led many to question the impartiality of the investigating authorities, reports Reem Leila
On 10 October Mustafa Abdallah, head of the Cairo Criminal Court, cleared all 25 defendants in the Battle of the Camel case. They had been charged with orchestrating the attacks against demonstrators in Tahrir Square on 2 and 3 February 2011, when plain clothed assailants killed 11 protesters and left hundreds injured.
The defendants have been detained in Tora Prison since April. They included Fathi Sorour, former speaker of the People's Assembly, Safwat Al-Sherif, former speaker of the Shura Council, businessman and former MP Mohamed Abul-Enein, lawyer Mortada Mansour, former minister of manpower and immigration Aisha Abdel-Hadi and businessman and member of the secretariat-general of the National Democratic Party Ibrahim Kamel.
The court, said Abdallah, had no choice but to acquit the defendants given the weakness of the prosecution's case. "Witness testimonies were a result of personal grudges towards the defendants. Some of the witnesses had criminal records, one had been found guilty of perjury," said Abdallah.
The verdict is expected to be appealed.
Activists and politicians expressed their surprise at the verdict, though given there has yet to be a successful prosecution of any official of the previous regime for the murder of almost 1,000 peaceful demonstrators the acquittals seem par for the course.
Following the ruling members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist forces called for demonstrations on 11 October, the day on which liberal and leftist forces had scheduled an anti-President Mohamed Morsi protest. The non-Islamist opposition denounced the Brotherhood's calls as a cynical attempt to distract public attention from their attempts to highlight Morsi's failure to keep his promises 100 days after being elected.
The 6 April Youth Movement announced on its Facebook page that if demands for a retrial were ignored they would stage an open-ended sit-in in front of the prosecutor-general's office.
"The ruling is unfair to the victims, their parents and the whole of Egyptian people," says Dalia Hegazi, a 6 April movement member who went to Tahrir Square to protest against the verdict. "The trial was a farce."
Human rights lawyer Gamal Eid, who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), points out that the court ignored much of the evidence with which it was presented. Other witnesses, he said, changed their testimony after coming under pressure to do so by members of the former regime.
Presidential adviser Seif Abdel-Fattah says "the president as well as all presidential officials are keen to see the defendants face a fresh trial in the light of new evidences unearthed by the fact finding committee" which Mursi formed to re-examined the circumstances surrounding the killing of anti-Mubarak demonstrators.
Human rights lawyer Ahmed Ragheb, a member of the fact finding committee, says he expected the acquittals given the flawed legal procedures that marred the investigation.
"The fact is the judges in charge of investigating this case were all appointed by the Mubarak regime and they remain loyal to it," says Ragheb. "Their sympathies were with the defendants and the investigations were lax and inconclusive."
It is, complains Ragheb, almost impossible to successfully prosecute Mubarak-era officials when the judiciary is packed with the same -- Mubarak-era appointees.
"This acquittal doesn't mean the defendants are innocent and did not commit any of the crimes they were tried for. It means insufficient evidence was collected for a conviction," says Ragheb. The failure to properly investigate and amass evidence against Mubarak's officials is, Ragheb points out, becoming a pattern.
The fact finding committee, he adds, has uncovered new evidence which will be presented to the general prosecution as a first step in appealing the verdict. Not that he holds out much hope of the guilty ever being brought to justice under the current system.
"As it stands the legal system is incapable of trying figures who belonged to the old regime, for the simple reason that the judiciary was part and parcel of the same regime," he says.