CAIRO: The sentencing of 529 Muslim Brotherhood members to death after a brief trial is a reflection of a larger problem in Egypt – “independent, unqualified judges,” the legal advisor for the Ministry of International Cooperation, Abdel Ghany Sayed, told The Cairo Post on Wednesday.
Minya Criminal Court Judge Said Youssef sentenced 529 members of the Brotherhood to death and acquitted 17 others on Monday on charges of attacking a police station and killing its deputy head.
“The ruling was not politicized. The judge was unqualified,” Sayed said. “The real problem is that the Egyptian judiciary is very independent and judges issue rulings as they like.”
Sayed said Egypt’s penal code articles are open to interpretation, naming Article 86, the “terrorism” law as an example, under which the mass death sentence was issued. The Court of Cassation is likely to find it “illogical” for a judge to issue such a verdict against 529 people in such a short trial, he said.
The rapid verdict is one of the major deficiencies of the trial, Sayed continued, in addition to the judge not providing the time for a proper defense.
The ruling will be abolished by either the Court of Cassation on appeal or by presidential pardon, similar to the case of heavy sentences handed down to 21 Brotherhood girls and women in Alexandria, who were later pardoned, he said.
Egypt cannot afford to worsen its image internationally by “holding a massacre in the name of the judiciary,” Sayed added.
The chairman of the National Association for the Defense of Rights and Freedoms (NADRF) Waleed Farouq told The Cairo Post that the ruling is judicially correct but the judge neglected important procedures that would defend his verdict.
He also described Article 86 as “extremely harsh,” and said there are many “overlapping laws that needed to be reconsidered.”
Article 86 permits the penalty of “execution or a life sentence of hard labor for the supplying of groups, gangs or other ‘terrorist’ formations with weapons, ammunition, explosives, materials, instruments, funds or information that assist them in carrying out their aims.”
The government designated the Brotherhood a “terrorist group” on December 25, 2013, a day after a bombing at the Dakahlia Security Directorate that left 15 dead.
The mass death sentence sparked major controversy nationally and internationally, leading a number of human rights organizations to condemn it.
In a Monday release, Amnesty International said, “Today’s mass death sentences handed down by an Egyptian court are a grotesque example of the shortcomings and selective nature of Egypt’s justice system.”
According to Egypt’s Criminal Code, a death penalty verdict can be referred to the Grand Mufti to determine if the defendants deserve the death sentence.
The Grand Mufti’s judgment is only consultative, however.