CAIRO: The mass death sentences handed down to hundreds, including Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie on Monday, received wide-scale condemnation, but few know the details of the cases and the defendants’ fate determined by Egypt’s judicial system.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Egypt’s recent judicial decisions “disturbing” before his Tuesday meeting with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, adding that his country is looking for inclusiveness and constitutional implementation in Egypt.
“[The judicial system is] completely independent from the government,” Fahmy said.
“I can’t comment on the content of the decisions themselves, but I’m confident that due process is allowed … and that the legal system will ultimately end up with the proper decisions in each of these cases,” Fahmy added.
The two officials met just one day after Judge Saeed Sabry from Minya Criminal Court sentenced 683 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, including the group’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, to death in the case of “raiding Edwa police station”.
The number of defendants sentenced in absentia has not been made public by the authorities yet, but Aljazeera English reported that only 77 of the 683 are in custody.
Egypt’s judicial system
As is the tradition in the Egyptian judiciary when a death sentence is issued, the court will wait for the Grand Mufti’s unbinding opinion. The verdict is scheduled for confirmation on June 21. The sentence can be appealed after the Mufti sends his opinion to the court, and anyone tried in absentia is retried once he appears in court.
Also on Monday, the same judge ratified a death sentence against 37 out of the initial 528 Brotherhood supporters, 382 of whom were tried in absentia, sentenced to death in the case of “raiding Matay police station.” Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam had sent his opinion to the court, advising that only those found guilty of murder and mutilation of dead bodies be executed, according to ONA news.
The prosecution has already challenged the judgment, which also sentenced 492 others to life in prison, before the Cassation Court. In the Egyptian system, sentences issued by misdemeanor courts can be appealed and thus commuted or upheld by an appeals court.
However, sentences issued by criminal courts may only be challenged, and the Cassation Court may reject the challenge or accept it and order a retrial held by another judge at the criminal court. The sentence of the retrial may be challenged before the Cassation Court, and, if accepted, the Cassation Court issues a third sentence.
“By the force of law, the prosecution is obliged to challenge any death sentence, and this challenge will be accepted without a doubt because this sentence is not worth the ink with which it was written or all of the media hassle about it,” Taher Abou el-Nasr, legal adviser for the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), told The Cairo Post Wednesday.
“Sure, the sentence is bizarre, but it is one of those judges who ‘are like that’ regardless of circumstances or politics,” Abou el-Nasr said, adding that Sabry should have worked to issue a “serious” sentence.
According to Abou el-Nasr, all sentences issued by criminal courts, including death sentences, fall within the statute of limitations if 15 years pass while the convict is at large within the country. If the convict is abroad, his sentence does not fall within the statute of limitations.
The sentence of the retrial will depend on the “irrefutability” of the prosecution’s case file, whether or not the evidence is compelling and the pleadings of the defendants’ lawyers, Abou el-Nasr added.
Although Egyptian law allows for execution and life imprisonment sentences in “cases like these”, the sentence will still be decided by the discretion of the new judge, according to Abou el-Nasr.
What happened in the city of Minya?
The two cases date back to Aug. 14 in the Upper Egyptian city of Minya, right after the forced dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in that killed hundreds. Minya is reportedly the city that witnessed the most violence, sectarianism and damage to public and private properties after the dispersal.
Some 72 people were killed in the city, including 15 police officers. Six police stations were burned down and raided, dozens of churches and government facilities were torched and hundreds of private properties that belong to Copts were set to fire, according to a report by the secretary general of Minya governorate Osama Tamim published by Ahram newspaper on Sept. 3.
In the Matay case, a pro-Brotherhood mob besieged, raided and stole from Matay police station. Videos on Youtube show the mob assaulting two police officers on the street, but they later survived the incident.
Officer Mostafa al-Aqqad, the deputy head of the station, was transferred to Matay Public Hospital, still alive. The Brotherhood-affiliated doctor in charge refrained from treating him and allowed the mob to enter the hospital and attack him. Aqqad eventually died, and the mob reportedly beat his body.
Videos from inside the hospital show Aqqad, with a swollen nose and a bloody head, lying on a hospital bed and receiving no medical treatment, although he was still able to move his head and hands.
In the Edwa police station case, the station was also raided, stolen from and burned down and one police officer was killed. The defendants face charges of damaging properties, murder and attempted murder, illegal assembly, assaulting public officers and other charges.
Videos uploaded in August 2013 show a mob attacking a smoldering building, allegedly Edwa police station, and coming out with weapons and other properties and then fighting over them.
Legal criticism and calls to reverse sentences
The two trials, which lasted for only two sessions each before issuing the preliminary sentence, were met with national and international outcry.
In Egypt, 18 human rights organizations, including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and ANHRI, released a statement Tuesday, accusing the judge of failing to identify the actual perpetrators of the crimes and providing the legal grounds of his sentence.
The statement said Sabry has a “record of harsh punishments” against people charged with assaulting security forces.
According to the statement, he sentenced approximately 12 people to prison for periods that amounted to 88 years, and in 2013 he acquitted all security officers who were charged with killing protesters in Bani Sweif city during the January 25 Revolution in 2011.
“The organizations are concerned by the deeply flawed nature of these mass trials, which represent a serious miscarriage of justice. Monday’s verdict and decision do very little to restore faith in the rule of law and the impartiality of the judiciary, and emphasize the need for the state to take urgent actions to reform the justice system in Egypt,” the statement said.
Germany summoned the Egyptian ambassador Tuesday to urge reversing the mass death sentence, adding that a fair trial should be allowed for the defendants, AFP reported. France, Switzerland, Turkey and Tunisia also asked for Egyptian authorities to abolish the sentence.
On Tuesday, Stephane Dujarric said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “conscious of the regional and security implications of such sentences,” adding that “stability in Egypt is essential for the overall stability of the entire North Africa and Middle East region,” AFP reported.
The U.S. urged Egypt to reverse the ruling that condemned 682 people to death, saying it defies the most basic standards of international justice.
“While judicial independence is a vital part of democracy, this verdict cannot be reconciled with Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law,” the White House said in a Tuesday statement.
“Egyptian leaders must take a stand against this illogical action and dangerous precedent, recognizing that the repression of peaceful dissent will fuel the instability and radicalization that Egypt says it wishes to prevent,” the White House added.