Court postpones trial of 67 defendants in connection with prosecutor general’s assassination

A Cairo criminal court postponed on Saturday the trial of 67 defendants in the case of the 2015 assassination of Prosecutor General Hesham Barakat, to Tuesday March 21, in order to hear testimonies from forensics experts and doctors at Nozha hospital.

The court also fined six doctors LE1,000 each for not attending the hearing, after none of the prosecution witnesses who were scheduled to give their testimonies on Saturday showed up, according to the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.

Defense lawyers requested the case be adjourned as a number of lawyers are currently on strike, but the judge said the trial would have gone ahead if the prosecution witnesses had been present.

The case was previously postponed on March 14 to Saturday March 18 to give forensic experts, including Mohamed Salah Abdel Khalek, Hesham Abdel Hameed, and Mahmoud Ahmed Ali, the chance to give their testimonies.

Only 52 of the defendants are currently in custody, while the remaining 15 are at large.

In May 2016, Egypt’s public prosecutor indicted 67 defendants for their alleged involvement in the assassination of Prosecutor General Hesham Barakat in June 2015. The defendants were accused of belonging to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group and of collaborating with Palestinian Hamas to execute the assassination. Their arrest followed an investigation by the National Security Agency, whose report was partially based on the confessions of 45 of the defendants.

The Ministry of Interior released a video in March 2016 showing the alleged confessions of 14 people in connection to the assassination. The confessions implicated the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, suggesting Yehia Moussa, who was the Health Ministry spokesperson during Mohamed Morsi’s presidency, as the orchestrator of the attack.

Both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas denied these allegations.

Barakat was killed in a car bombing outside his house on June 29, 2015, almost a year into the political turmoil and violence that followed the violent dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in, staged by supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi. The bombing occurred a day before the second anniversary of the military-backed ouster of Morsi.

Two days after Barakat’s assassination, Egypt’s Cabinet approved the anti-terrorism act, amid growing concerns the legislation could lead to human rights violations. Following the Cabinet meeting in which the bill was approved, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb asserted Egypt was in a “real state of war.” A month later, the bill was ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who held legislative authority at the time in the absence of a parliament.

During his time in office, Barakat referred Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and other Brotherhood leaders and members to trial, including Khairat al-Shater, Mahmoud Ezzat, former Member of Parliament Mohamed Saad al-Katatny and Guidance Bureau leaders Mohamed al-Beltagy and Essam al-Erian, who were referred to criminal courts on charges of collaborating with foreign organizations.

In 2014, Barakat ordered prosecutors to implement the newly-ratified law protecting public and vital facilities, referring several cases to military prosecutors.

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