Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak has been sentenced to life in prison after a court convicted him on charges of complicity in the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising that forced him from power.
Habib el-Adly, Mubarak’s minister of the interior, was also jailed for life but Mubarak’s sons Gamal and Alaa were cleared of corruption.
People at the court in Cairo reacted with pleasure at the first sentences and then angrily to the acquittal of Mubarak’s sons and six interior ministry officials and police chiefs. The crowd chanted: “False judgements. The people want to clean the judicial system,” and fights broke out inside and stones were thrown at riot police outside the court.
Hear the Guardian’s Jack Shenker at the trial in Cairo. Link to this audio
Mubarak, 84, the first Arab leader to be tried in his own country, remained silent inside a court cage while his once-powerful sons appeared nervous and had dark circles under their eyes. His elder son, Alaa, whispered verses from the Qur’an.
In sentencing, Judge Ahmed Rifaat described Mubarak’s era as “30 years of darkness” and “a darkened nightmare” that ended only when Egyptians rose up to demand change. “They peacefully demanded democracy from rulers who held a tight grip on power,” he said.
Rifaat, who was presiding over his last court session before he retires, said Mubarak and Adly did not act to stop the killings during 18 days of mass protests that were met by a deadly crackdown of security forces on unarmed demonstrators. More than 850 protesters were killed in Cairo and other major cities.
Egyptian TV reported that Mubarak would be transferred from the hospital suite where he has been detained to Torah prison in south Cairo but he may have the right to appeal.
It is unlikely the judge’s verdict will put an end to uncertainty and instability in Egypt. Within minutes of the verdict, young men were pulling barricades on to Tahrir Square. The verdict could damage the chance of Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s former prime minister, in the second round of the presidential election on 16-17 June when he runs against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi.
Outside there were celebrations, with many chanting: “God is greatest.” Soha Saeed, the wife of one of those killed in the uprising that toppled Mubarak on 11 February 2011, shouted: “I’m so happy. I’m so happy.”
As the news of the sentence initially came through to hundreds of protesters and relatives of victims outside the court compound, jubilation erupted with dozens of anti-Mubarak protesters jumping up and down and waving Egyptian flags and their fists in the air.
Scuffles then broke out between Mubarak supporters and opponents inside and outside the courtroom, reflecting the deep polarization of the country after more than a year of turmoil. Helmeted riot police also clashed with protesters.
Some inside the court raised banners that read: “God’s verdict is execution.”
Rock throwing and fighting left at least 20 people injured, and a police official said four people had been arrested. Thousands of riot police and officers riding horses had cordoned off the building to prevent protesters and relatives of those slain during the uprising from getting too close. Hundreds stood outside, waving Egyptian flags and chanting slogans demanding “retribution”. Some spread Mubarak’s picture on the ground and walked over it.
The Muslim Brotherhood issued an immediate statement after the verdict calling for a retrial. “The public prosecutor did not carry out its full duty in gathering adequate evidence to convict the accused for killing protesters,” said Yasser Ali, official spokesman for the Mohamed Morsi campaign.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Mubarak’s jailing sent a powerful message to Egypt’s future leaders that they are not above the law, but that the acquittal of the four officials pointed to a failure to properly investigate the killing of protesters.
“These convictions set an important precedent, since just over a year ago seeing Hosni Mubarak as a defendant in a criminal court would have been unthinkable,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director. “But the acquittal of senior ministry of interior officials for the deaths and injuries of peaceful protesters leaves police impunity intact and the victims still waiting for justice.”
Egyptian state TV reported that Mubarak suffered a “health crisis” on his way to Torah prison and that it took escorts 30 minutes to persuade him to leave the aircraft and enter the prison’s hospital. It is the first time Mubarak has been held in a prison since he was detained.
During his trial, Mubarak was held in a presidential suite in a hospital on the outskirts of Cairo. Doctors treating him have said he is weak and has lost weight from refusing to eat. They have also said he suffers from severe depression.