The Associated Press
December 15, 2008
CAIRO, Egypt: An Egyptian emergency court convicted 22 people for participating in deadly food riots in April, handing out sentences ranging from three to five years, the presiding judge said.
The remaining 27 defendants in the high profile case held in the northern provincial capital of Tanta 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of Cairo, were acquitted, Judge Alsayyed Abdel-Maaboud told The Associated Press.
Defendants screamed at the judge calling him unjust when the verdicts were read out, with some fainting, according to witnesses inside the court.
Thousands of residents of the gritty industrial town of Mahalla al-Kobra rioted in April for two days over the hardships caused by high food prices, destroying posters of the president and clashing with security troops.
The demonstrations were quashed by tear gas and shotgun-wielding security forces who killed three people and arrested dozens of others.
The 22 defendants were convicted on charges of looting, assaulting police officers and the possession of dangerous materials, including firearms.
Among the convicted, was a 58-year-old woman on charges of carrying a molotov cocktail. She received three years in prison.
Sentences from the Emergency Supreme State Security Court cannot be appealed and are only subject to pardon by the president himself.
Outside the courtroom dozens of family members and supporters of the defendants chanted anti-government slogans, condemning President Hosni Mubarak and his family.
"Oh dear son, where have you gone, State Security has come between us," they chanted, according to witnesses. A number of family members fainted when they heard the news of the verdicts.
Before reading the verdicts, Judge Abdel-Maaboud gave a lengthy statement blaming "international forces" and other entities outside Mahalla for instigating the riots.
He said price rises were a global phenomenon and not the fault of the Egyptian government and he praised the restraint of security forces in quelling the demonstrations.
Mahalla is home to the largest textile factory in the Middle East and has been the scene of numerous labor strikes by the highly organized workers over low wages and high prices.
Following the riots, Mubarak blamed Egyptians' suffering on the increase in food prices in across the world. The World Bank estimates that by the summer, food prices had increased 83 percent in the past three years.
Inflation in Egypt reached 14.4 percent in March, making life difficult for the 20 percent of the country's 76.5 million people who live below the poverty line of about $2 per day. During the spring, eleven people died in clashes while standing in line to buy subsidized bread, according to police.
Associated Press Writer Omar Sinan contributed to this report.