The preliminary sentencing of 683 people to death and the ratification of 37 other death sentences has prompted domestic and international condemnation of the two judgements, passed by the same judge in the Minya Criminal Court.
Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat announced on Monday evening that he is launching an appeal for the all of the sentences handed down to the group of 528, including the 17 acquitted and those given life sentences.
Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie was among the defendants who received preliminary death sentences on Monday, which will be considered by Grand Mufti Shawky Allam and a final verdict will be given on 21 June. Judge Saeed Youssef also delivered the final verdict for 528 people who he preliminarily sentenced to death on 24 March. After receiving Allam’s opinion on Sunday Youssef upheld 37 death sentences, acquitted 17 and gave reduced life sentences to the remaining defendants.
Defence lawyers claim that both trials were not conducted properly, with each lasting two sessions without hearing the defence’s arguments.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy pointed out that “there is a separation of powers” in Egypt and said it is necessary to “let the legal process follow through”, adding “this one still has a very long process.”
Eighteen human rights groups expressed their condemnation of the rulings in a joint statement released on Tuesday. The organisations expressed “their disapproval of the involvement and the use of the judiciary as a tool to suppress political opponents.” Among the signatories are the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression and the Arab Network for Human Rights.
The rights groups also claim that Youssef “has a track record of imposing tough sanctions on those accused of acts of violence against security forces.” The examples given include the sentencing of 13 people to a total of 88 years for rioting last Sunday and the acquittal of all security personnel accused of killing protesters in Beni Suef during the 25 January Revolution.
Political parties also weighed in to express their concern. The Free Egyptians Party welcomed the appeal launched by the prosecutor general and “confirmed its rejection of illegal, retaliatory methods in dealing with political opponents. The party said on Tuesday: “The Egyptian Revolution, which came to establish justice and a state based on the rule of law, cannot countenance double standards or breaches of law that override the right of the citizen to a fair trial.”
The Salafi Al-Nour Party pointed to Article 96 of the constitution that includes the provisions for a free and fair trial and that the accused are innocent until proven guilty. The statement, issued by Talaat Marzouk, a member of the Al-Nour Council, called on interim President Adly Mansour to amend the Criminal Procedure Code to prevent the situation from happening again.
The Muslim Brotherhood “denounced the kangaroo court” in a Tuesday statement, saying “Coup authorities have now resorted to the heinous weapon of corrupt judiciary… in a final attempt to terrorise the raging populace.” The group, now outlawed in Egypt and dubbed a terrorist organisation, called on the international community “to break their silence with regard to these crimes… and to condemn these abominable acts.”
International condemnation was led by the United Nations, United States, United Kingdom and Turkey, who all strongly condemned Monday’s rulings all expressing concerns that neither trial was conducted in line with international standards.
Spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: “Verdicts that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those which impose the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability.”
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also weighed in. “It is outrageous that for the second time in two months, the Sixth Chamber of the Criminal Court in Minya has imposed the death sentence on huge groups of defendants after perfunctory trials,” she stressed.
“It is high time that Egypt takes its human rights commitments seriously,” she added, pointing out that Egypt is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “It is impossible to believe that such proceedings could satisfy even the most basic standards of justice, let alone meet Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law.” She called on the Egyptian government to “remedy the situation and reverse these court rulings” and “to suspend future mass trials of Egyptians.”