An Egyptian court has thrown out charges against former President Hosni Mubarak, his interior minister and six aides over the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising against him.
Mubarak and his sons Alaa and Gamal were also cleared by Chief Judge Mahmoud Kamel al-Rashidi of corruption charges related to exporting gas to Israel.
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The judge said too much time had elapsed since the alleged crime took place for the court to rule on the matter.
The verdicts sparked celebrations among Mubarak supporters while those opposed to him were dismayed.
About 1000 people gathered near Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square later during the day to protest the ruling. A protester was killed and tens injured after the police fired teargas to disperse the crowd.
Reacting to the verdict, Mubarak denied responsibility for the protesters’ deaths, in a phone call to a local television station.
“I felt I did nothing wrong at all. I was waiting to find out what they will come up with this time. It was an innocent verdict. I did nothing wrong at all. But, we cannot change destiny. When I heard the previous ruling I laughed. This time I was just waiting. I felt indifferent. It is all in the hands of God.”
However, Mubarak, 86, will not walk free after Saturday’s verdicts. He was found guilty in May in another case related to theft of public funds and has been serving that three-year sentence while under house arrest for medical reasons in an army hospital in an upscale Cairo suburb.
Saturday’s rulings can be appealed and the attorney general has asked his team to study the case to see if an appeal is possible.
Mubarak, wearing sunglasses and a sweater, had been grim-faced when he was wheeled into the courtroom on a stretcher.
The judge said the former president should not be on trial in the first place.
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“It is not suitable for a former president to be taken to a criminal court, according to the terms and conditions of criminal law, or to consider the things he did wrong within his political responsibilities, even those crimes mentioned in the accusation list,” he said.
Mubarak’s supporters leapt out of their benches in celebration when the judge pronounced the verdict, chanting: “Say the truth, don’t be scared, Mubarak is innocent.”
Some rushed over to his lawyer to congratulate him.
Outside the court venue, a sprawling police academy on Cairo’s outskirts, relatives of those killed in the 18-day uprising were appalled at the ruling.
“It’s an oppressive ruling. The blood of my son has been wasted,” Mostafa Morsi, whose son was killed outside a police station during the uprising, told AFP.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s political analyst, said the ruling was “an arrogant attempt to make the Egyptian people feel sorry for coming out to the streets”.
“This is trying to retrieve the old Egypt and basically clear three decades of dictatorship. Basically we have everyone charged with violence and corruption cleared of all charges, while in prison we have thousands of peaceful civil rights activists.
“I would have hoped that the new system in Egypt would give at least a hint that not everything was under the thumb of the military.
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“In so many ways this verdict dismisses the dead and injured.”
Nearly 900 protesters were killed in the 18-day uprising that ended when Mubarak stepped down, handing over power to the military.
The trial, however, was concerned only with the killing of 239 protesters, whose names were cited in the charge sheet.
While delivering his judgement, Rashidi, however, praised the January 2011 uprising, saying that its goals – freedom, bread and social justice – were justified.
The overthrow of Mubarak, who ruled for about 30 years, led to Egypt’s first free election but the winner, Mohamed Morsi, was toppled last year by the army.
The release of some Mubarak-era figures this year had already raised fears among activists that the old leadership was regaining influence.