CAIRO: Egypt’s largest case of capital punishment, in which a Monday court verdict sentenced 529 to death after only two trial sessions, has received both condemnation and criticism.
Amnesty International said in a Monday statement that the mass sentences represent a “grotesque example of the shortcomings and the selective nature of Egypt’s justice system.”
This is the largest single batch of death sentences in recent years anywhere in the world, according to Amnesty.
Only 115 of the defendants have been detained, while the rest of them were sentenced in absentia. The court acquitted 16 in its Monday ruling.
Egypt traditionally refers death sentences to the Grand Mufti for consultation on whether the penalty is worthwhile; however, according to the Criminal Code, his judgment is not binding.
The court will announce the final verdict after the Mufti’s response on April 28, according to Al-Masry Al-Youm.
The defendants, who have been labeled pro-Muslim Brotherhood, are charged with killing deputy head of the Minya police station, Mustafa Ragab, attempting to murder a second officer, and opening fire on and stealing guns from the station on Aug. 14, 2013.
Aug. 14 was also the day Egyptian authorities forcibly dispersed two large sit-ins by Brotherhood supporters calling for the reinstatement of former President Mohamed Morsi. The dispersal resulted in at least 632 deaths as estimated by the state-run National Council for Human Rights. Reports by the Muslim Brotherhood place the number at over 2000, and reports by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights place the number at 904.
The trial verdict will be challenged by the defendants’ lawyers, defense team member Ahmed Shabeeb told Mada Masr Monday.
Verdicts issues by criminal courts cannot be appealed, but can only be challenged before a cassation court, which would order a retrial if the verdict is marred by a legal flaw, Abou el-Nasr, legal adviser of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told The Cairo Post Monday.
Since the trial and verdict have “many legal flaws,” Abou el-Nasr highly anticipated that the verdict would not be executed.
“The recent sentences handed down by Egyptian courts are severe. I am afraid they may be linked to the political situation and authority in Egypt,” said Abou el-Nasr.
In another sentence that received major condemnation in Egypt, Alexandria Misdemeanor Court sentenced 14 young women to 11 years and one month in prison in November 2013 for “using force, joining a banned group and possessing and distributing flyers.”
The appealed sentence in December 2013 acquitted seven of the defendants, who were younger than 18, and reduced the sentence to one year of suspended imprisonment, Youm7 reported.
“Egypt’s courts are quick to punish Mohamed Morsi’s supporters but ignore gross human rights violations by the security forces,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International. “While thousands of Morsi’s supporters languish in jail, there has not been an adequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of protesters.”
On March 18, deputy sheriff of New Cairo police station was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the killing of 37 detainees in August who died of suffocation in a truck transporting them to a prison after a police officer threw a gas bomb into the vehicle and closed its doors.
Although the sentence will most probably not be executed, it is horrifying, award-winning human rights activist Mona Seif said on Facebook Monday.
Aside from the politicizing of the judiciary, there is an energy of madness and retaliation that controls many judges, which makes them issue personally motivated nightmarish sentences, Seif added.
Judges sometimes issue sentences that aim to ‘deter,’ which should not be the case, Abou el-Nasr told The Cairo Post in February while commenting on the sentencing of 12 Al-Azhar University students to 17 years in prison in November for “rioting” and “assaulting police officers,” among other charges.