CAIRO (AFP) – Egyptian ex-interior minister Habib al-Adly pleaded not guilty as he went on trial in Cairo Tuesday accused of ordering the shooting of demonstrators during protests that toppled the former regime.
Adly and six former aides made a brief appearance in a packed Cairo courthouse before Judge Adel Abdelsalam Gomaa, who postponed the trial until May 21 to allow more time for defence lawyers as well for legal experts acting for families of victims.
All pleaded not guilty, according to lawyers who were at the trial.
The former minister is accused of having ordered security forces to fire on demonstrators and is held responsible for insecurity that prevailed after police disappeared from the streets of Cairo in the early days of the protests.
According to an official toll, 846 people were killed and several thousand wounded during 18 days of massive nationwide street protests that forced president Hosni Mubarak to quit on February 11.
Around 50 people, including family members of slain protesters, staged a demonstration outside the court, shouting, “Death penalty for Adly! That dog must be immediately executed!”
The court was placed under high security, with truckloads of riot police and army tanks stationed outside the building.
Inside, the court was crowded with noisy spectators, with those unable to secure a place inside banging on the doors to be let in.
The much reviled Adly was also the first member of Mubarak’s regime to be put on trial in another case of embezzlement, in which he has pleaded not guilty.
The removal of Adly from office was one of the chief demands of protesters when they launched the revolution against Mubarak’s regime on January 25.
Adly, along with a German businessman and former finance minister Yussef Boutros-Ghali, is also accused of illegally profiteering from a deal to import new vehicle number plates which they allegedly bought directly without a public tender as required by law.
Two former Egyptian ministers, Sameh Fahmi and Mahmud Latif, are also to face trial accused of selling natural gas to Israel at below market prices, leading to a loss of revenue to the state of 714 million dollars.
Mubarak is in detention at a hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh after suffering a heart attack during interrogation.
He is being investigated by prosecutors in connection with the violent suppression of the uprising as well as for allegations of corruption.
Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, are in the Tora prison complex in the capital, and face similar charges.
The brothers are also accused of forcing businessmen to give them a cut in local partnerships with foreign companies.
The Tora prison complex, once home to political prisoners, now hosts a growing number of former regime officials, including Mubarak’s former chief of staff Zakariah Azmy and his former party’s leadership.
Nationwide anti-regime protests that erupted on January 25 ended Mubarak’s 30-year reign of the Arab world’s most populous country and saw power transferred to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which vowed to bring to justice all those found guilty of abuse.