CBS/AP/ June 2, 2012, 11:30 AM

Egypt's ex-leader Mubarak gets life in prison

Last Updated 7:58 a.m. ET

(CBS/AP) CAIRO — Egypt's deposed President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison Saturday for his role in the killing of protesters during last year's revolution that forced him from power, a verdict that caps a stunning fall from grace for a man who ruled the country as his personal fiefdom for nearly three decades.

The 84-year-old Mubarak, the first Arab leader to be tried in his own country, was ferried by helicopter away from the police academy where the trial was held to the Torah prison in Cairo, where his sons and members of his regime have been either serving prison sentences or are being held pending trials over a variety of corruption charges.

Mubarak and his two sons — Gamal and Alaa — were acquitted on corruption charges, but the sons still faced a separate trial on charges of insider trading.

Former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly was also sentenced to life in prison for the protester killings. Six police officers also charged were acquitted.

"That brought the courtroom into a state of chaos," reports CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey. "Supporters and opponents of Mubarak clashed physically, had fistfights, and lawyers for the prosecution began shouting that the entire judicial system needed to be overhauled."

The anger, said Pizzey, is over the acquittal of the six senior police officials. "The evidence that convicted Mubarak and his interior minister is the same evidence that should have been used against those six policemen," Pizzey said, "because they were closer to the police on the ground. They're the ones who would have said to the police officers on the ground to use live ammunition. ... What people don't understand is, how could they be acquitted with the same evidence? That's what the real anger is about."

Mubarak ruled with unchecked power for 29 years — an era stained by allegations of widespread corruption, police abuses and a strong grip on power by the ruling party.

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The sentence against Mubarak (which can be appealed) appeared aimed at defusing tensions ahead of a divisive runoff presidential race that pits Mubarak's last prime minister against the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate.

Mubarak, wearing sunglasses and lying in a gurney, remained silent inside the defendants' cage before the verdicts were announced, surrounded by his once-powerful sons, who appeared nervous and had dark circles under their eyes. His elder son, Alaa, whispered verses from the Quran.

Mubarak, reports Pizzey, "listened with almost eerie impassiveness while the judge read out a litany of the terrible things that had been done during his rule, then read the verdicts."

Egyptian security officials later said Mubarak resisted leaving the helicopter that flew him to a prison hospital after the court sentencing, tearfully pleading with officials to take him back to the military hospital where he has stayed since his trial began August 3. It took his escorts 30 minutes to persuade him to leave the aircraft and enter Torah prison's hospital.

Reuters subsequently quoted hospital officials when it reported that Mubarak suffered "a health crisis" upon his arrival, without further explanation.

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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 between Mubarak supporters and opponents broke out inside and outside the courtroom after the verdict was read, reflecting the deep polarization of the country after more than a year of turmoil. Helmeted riot police also clashed with protesters.

"The people want to cleanse the judiciary," lawyers chanted inside the courtroom after the verdict. Some raised banners that read, "God's verdict is execution."

Rock throwing and fist fights left at least 20 people injured, and a police official said that four people were arrested. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Thousands of riot police and policemen 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 asphalt and walked over it.

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Lawyers representing families of the slain protesters expressed dismay at the ruling after the judge described the case against Mubarak as weak, lacking material evidence or recordings. They feared that the acquittal of six Interior Ministry officials would be used in the appeal to overturn the ruling.

"This ruling is politicized and will be overturned on appeal," said Hisham Naguib, a lawyer representing families of 23 slain protesters and 36 who were wounded as Egyptian security forces cracked down on mass protests that began by calling for reform but escalated to demand Mubarak step down. He did so on Feb. 11, 2011, ceding power to a military council that itself quickly came under criticism for moving too slowly to transition to civilian rule.

Judge Ahmed Rifaat delivered a strongly worded statement before handing down the sentences. Mubarak, who wore sunglasses and a light brown jacket over his clothes, and his co-defendants were in an iron cage.

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 tight grip on power," the judge said.

Rifaat, who was presiding over his last court session before he retires, said Mubarak and el-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 - most shot to death - in Cairo and other major cities.

Mubarak's verdict came just days after presidential elections have been boiled down to a June 16-17 contest between Mubarak's last prime minister, one-time protege Ahmed Shafiq, and Mubarak's top foe, a Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi.

© 2012 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
2 Comments Add a Comment
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cigar-smoker says:
"The harsh sentence against the 84-year-old former leader"
Short of walking him straight to the gallows, no sentence can be labeled "harsh" to someone 84 years old? Even a five year sentence could be considered "life" at 84 years old!
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mryoubrian says:
I hope he lives for a long, long, long time then.
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