Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1231, (29 January - 4 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Justice in the dock

Mass death sentences handed down by a Minya court have been overturned and a retrial ordered. Ahmed Morsy reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

When, after two brief hearings, a Minya Criminal Court ruled on 24 March 2014 that 529 supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi should be executed for attacking a police station, killing one police officer and attempting to kill two others, the verdict was met with an international outcry.

The 152 defendants in detention — the rest were tried in absentia — appealed the sentences. Following the first appeal the death sentences of 492 defendants were reduced to life in prison and upheld in 37 cases.

On Sunday the appeals process reached its end when the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest court, ruled on a second appeal and ordered a retrial for all defendants.

On 28 April 2014 the same Minya court sentenced 683 people, Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie among them, to death. On 21 June it upheld the death sentences for 183 of the defendants, including Badie, commuted the death sentences for four others to life in prison and acquitted the remaining 496.

Badie, a defendant in several other cases, was granted a retrial, along with 27 others, because he was sentenced by the Minya Court in absentia.

The glut of mass death sentences handed down by the Minya court was described by the UN human rights office as “unprecedented in recent history” and “a breach of international human rights law.”

The US State Department said it “defies logic” that so many defendants could have received a fair trial in two short sessions. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the verdicts “alarming” and said “further mass trials must be suspended.” The EU’s then foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, called on Egyptian officials to ensure “defendants’ rights to a fair and timely trial.”

Such calls have had little impact. On 2 December, days after charges were dropped against former president Hosni Mubarak for complicity in the killing of demonstrators opposed to his rule, a Cairo court sentenced 188 defendants to death for the killing of 13 policemen in on 14 August 2013. This was the same day that security forces dispersed two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo in an operation that left hundreds of Morsi supporters dead.

“Mass death sentences are fast losing Egypt’s judiciary whatever reputation for independence it once had,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement issued in December. “Instead of weighing the evidence against each person, judges are convicting defendants en masse without regard for fair trial standards.”

Amnesty International also condemned December’s mass sentencing. “It is telling that the sentences … were handed down in the same week that the case against former president Hosni Mubarak was dropped,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahrouai, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “This is blatantly a case of justice being meted out based on a political whim.”

The European Union expressed “serious concerns” over the December ruling and said it was following the case “very closely.”

“The EU reiterates its call on the Egyptian judicial authorities to ensure, in line with international standards, defendants’ rights to a fair and timely trial based on clear charges and proper and independent investigations,” Catherine Ray, spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

The United Nations rights office condemned “the seriously damaging lack of accountability for human rights violations committed by security forces in the context of demonstrations” in Egypt.

In response to the international condemnation, the Justice Ministry issued a statement underlining that defendants have the right to appeal the verdicts to the Court of Cassation, which can order a retrial.

 

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