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Concern and condemnation as Egypt court sentences 529 to death

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Governments, human rights groups speak out as foreign ministry defends what could be largest mass-execution in Egypt’s history

Egyptian relatives of supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi cry sitting outside the courthouse on Monday in Minya, after the court ordered the execution of 529 Morsi supporters after only two hearings (AFP PHOTO )

Egyptian relatives of supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi cry sitting outside the courthouse on Monday in Minya, after the court ordered the execution of 529 Morsi supporters after only two hearings
(AFP PHOTO )

Various human rights organisations and governments released statements condemning the “shocking” trial that sent 529 death sentences to Egypt’s grand mufti Monday as Egypt’s foreign ministry defended the trial as independent and carefully deliberated.

The second session of the trial, which lasted only an hour, was attended by only 124 of the defendants. The rest were tried in absentia. They all face charges of attacking a police station, killing one police officer, and the attempted murder of two others.

United States Department of State deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said: “It defies logic that over 529 defendants could be tried in a two-day period in accordance with international standards,” adding that the US is “deeply concerned” and “pretty shocked” by the ruling.

One of the defence lawyers in the case echoed the same remarks, stating that in his 25 years as a lawyer he had “never seen such a case that concludes after three days”.

“The prosecution did not put forward evidence implicating any individual defendant, even though it had compiled significant evidence during its investigations, and the court prevented defense lawyers from presenting their case or calling witnesses,” three lawyers told Human Rights Watch.

“The Minya court failed to carry out its most fundamental duty to assess the individual guilt of each defendant, violating the most basic fair trial right. These death sentences should be immediately quashed,” said Middle East director at Human Rights Watch Sarah Leah Whitson.

Human Rights Watch called the trial a “sham” and noted that the judge “brought the session to a close before completing customary opening procedures after an argument broke out in the courtroom between the judge and defense lawyers”.

High Representative of the European Union Catherine Ashton said the EU calls “on the Egyptian interim authorities to ensure, in line with international standards, the defendants’ rights to a fair and timely trial based on clear charges and proper and independent investigations, as well as the right of access and contact to lawyers and family members.” She added that the trial is particularly important for Egypt’s transition towards democracy.

Fourteen human rights groups in Cairo also released a joint statement calling the verdict a “serious and unprecedented departure” from the Egyptian judiciary’s prior judgments as well as “a gross violation to both the right to a fair trial and the right to life”.

Although the groups acknowledge the severity of the crimes committed, they noted that mass trials “constitute a serious breach of the guarantees to a fair trial and the right to life enshrined in the constitution”.

The statement, like Ashton’s, condemned the use of the death penalty, saying that such a “repressive measure” does nothing to combat terrorism and represents an “escalation of repressive measures” against dissidents. Among the groups that signed the statement are the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights and the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression.

The Muslim Brotherhood released a statement Monday, claiming that the trial “is yet another clear indication that the corrupt judiciary is being utilised by the coup commanders to suppress the Egyptian revolution and install a brutal regime, which has already surpassed decades long of oppression and tyranny in Egypt’s history.” Although it has been reported that all of the defendants are members of the Brotherhood, a minority are actually members of the recently-banned organisation.

The Egyptian foreign ministry fired back with a statement: “The Egyptian judiciary is entirely independent and is not influenced in any way by the executive branch of government, as dictated by the democratic principle of separation of powers.”

The statement added: “The sentence was issued by an independent court after careful study of the case; the sentence was issued by a Criminal Court and as such is only the first verdict in the trial process; and the defendants will have the opportunity to resort to the Court of Appeals in order to contest the verdict.”

The deputy mufti also responded to the international uproar over the trial urging media outlets to be accurate and objective when reporting. The grand mufti himself has yet to rule on the execution.

Tuesday marks the first session of a trial featuring 683 charged with killing two policemen during an attack on police station in Minya. They are also charged with belonging to a terrorist organisation. Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie is among the defendants.

Said Yousef, the judge who sentenced the 529 members to death on Monday, will also be presiding over Tuesday’s session, which features 683 defendants, stoking fears of a repeat verdict.

State-run Al-Ahram reported that the Minya Criminal Court will issue a final verdict on 28 April after the grand mufti issues a decision on the death sentences. According to Egyptian law, executions are carried out by hanging.

 

The two cases, which feature over 1,200 defendants, both relate to post-14 August violence, when supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi sought revenge on security forces after the forced dispersal of Rabaa and Nahda squares. The violence left over 1,000 dead in Cairo and many more dead or injured throughout the country. It also led interim authorities to announce a state of emergency, which lasted until November


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