Mass capital punishment sentences are apparently becoming routine in Egypt. This morning, at a trial in the city of Minya, a court sentenced 683 people to death. The condemned — which included Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader — were alleged supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, and were charged with murder and attempted murder involving a mob attack on a local police station.
It was the second such ruling handed out this year, after 529 were sentenced to death in March. However, Said Youssef, the judge in today's case, at the same time commuted the March sentence to 25 years or life imprisonment for 492 of those defendants.
According to Mohamed El Messiry, an Egypt researcher at Amnesty International who attended the trial in Minya, Judge Youssef said that he commuted the March sentences only because the prosecution had made a mistake in applying the law; he urged the prosecution to challenge his reversal and push again for the death penalty.
Messiry told VICE News that Monday’s hearing lasted only a matter of minutes. Security forces prevented the media and relatives of the accused from attending the proceedings. Family members outside of the court responded with cries of anguish after the mass sentence was announced.
Relatives of those sentenced are seen wailing in anguish at the verdict.
Monday’s sentence must be referred for approval to the Grand Mufti, Egypt's top Islamic official, although this typically a formality. The final verdict will be issued on June 21.
The charges relate to clashes that erupted across Egypt last August after security forces cleared sit-ins staged by supporters of Morsi, whom the military had removed from power in July. Hundreds were killed, but no one has been held accountable for those deaths, despite what Human Rights Watch described as “excessive and unjustified use of lethal force” on the part of security forces.
Messiry said that both trials lacked “fair trial guarantees” and showed that the Egyptian judiciary is quickly sentencing Morsi supporters.
“We call on the Egyptian authorities to quash the death penalty and life imprisonment verdict and to order the retrial of the defendants in both cases in a trial that meets international standards,” he said.
The international community heavily criticized the sentencing in March. A spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights described the verdict as a "breach of international human rights law,” while the European Parliament said in a tweet that it was "appalled" by the “heinous practice.” British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the sentence “unacceptable.”
Since Morsi’s removal, the military-backed government has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization and cracked down hard. Hundreds have been killed in clashes and thousands more detained, including most of its senior leadership.
In a separate ruling, a court in Cairo banned the April 6 Youth Movement today. The group played a pivotal role in the 2011 uprising that led to the downfall of Egypt’s longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. Three of the movement’s members — founder Ahmed Maher, Mohammed Adel, and Ahmed Douma — were sentenced to three years in jail last December for assaulting police officers and violating a protest law requiring that each demonstration have a police permit. A court of appeals approved that sentence earlier this month.
A lawyer had filed suit against the movement, alleging that it “tarnished the image of the Egyptian state.”
However, it should be noted that authorities who have claimed to be able to cure AIDS after detecting it with a magic wand, detained a stork on suspicion of spying, jailed a man who named his donkey after former Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and imprisoned journalists while making a habit of sentencing hundreds of Brotherhood members to death at a time probably don’t need any outside help in sullying the country’s image.
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