Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013

Ahram Weekly

Case still open

Saturday’s partial verdict in the trial of those accused of perpetrating the Port Said massacre leaves many questions unanswered, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 1 February 2012, following a football match between Masri and Ahli, 74 Ahli fans died. It was Egypt’s worst stadium disaster. Almost a year later Port Said Criminal Court handed death sentences on Saturday to 21 of the 73 defendants accused of perpetrating the massacre. Judgement in the case against the remaining 52 defendants has been delayed until 9 March.
The Port Said Criminal Court held its sessions at the Police Academy, New Cairo. More than 3,000 Central Security Force soldiers were deployed outside the court as the verdicts were read.
The death sentences will now be referred to the mufti, whom courts must consult before any capital sentence is carried out. While the referral is a legal obligation, there is no statutory obligation to act on the mufti’s recommendation should he oppose the judgement.
The mufti only examines whether the death penalties accord with Islamic Sharia, says Ahmed Seif Al-Islam, director of the Hisham Mubarak Centre for Human Rights. He does not interfere in the legal context of a case.
Over the last year, says Seif Al-Islam, the mufti has been consulted on 204 death sentences issued by criminal courts and opposed execution in just 12.
Legal experts say the remaining 52 defendants, who include all security personnel implicated in the case, are unlikely to receive death sentences. They will either be acquitted or receive jail terms,” leading lawyer Ragaai Attia said on Sunday.
Nine senior police officers are among the 52 remaining suspects. They include Major General Essam Samak, the former head of Port Said Security Directorate, his deputy General Mahmoud Fathi, and security officials General Bakr Hisham, General Abdel-Aziz Fahmi, Colonel Mohamed Saad and General Mohsen Sheta.
Of the 21 death sentences handed down, six were in absentia.
Ahli fans (Ultras Ahlawi) and the families of the victims greeted the court’s decision with jubilation.
“Finally the people who killed my son will get what they deserve,” said the mother of Mahmoud Salama. “Justice has been applied after a year of pain.”
Gamal Mahmoud, whose 21-year-old son Mohamed died in the massacre, insisted the judgement showed “Egypt still has honourable and honest judges who have the courage to serve the justice.”
They are sentiments that found no echo in Port Said, where the verdict is seen as being informed entirely by politics. Residents of the Canal city attempted to storm the prison, where many of the defendants are held, after the sentences were announced.
Five days before Saturday’s court session the prosecutor-general presented a memorandum to the court asking for new evidence, uncovered by a government appointed fact-finding committee, to be admitted.
The committee submitted its report on the killing of protesters and other acts of violence between 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2012 — the period from the start of the uprising until President Mohamed Morsi took office, in December.
The new evidence is reported to show the involvement of another two police officers and four members of Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party in the massacre.  
“The judge may ignore any new evidence presented to the court if he finds it unconvincing,” says lawyer Bahaa Abu Shokka. “It is not clear whether the judge will use the new evidence before the 9 March verdict.”
Emad Gad, deputy chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, argues that the judgement should have been postponed to allow any new findings to be examined. Some of the people who executed the crime, he says, have been sentenced, but we know nothing about the people who planned it.
The timing of the judgement, says Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession, has inevitably raised questions over its impartiality. Were the death sentences handed down as a sop to protesters amid the spiralling violence that has engulfed several towns and cities?
Legal expert Mohamed Nour Farahat argues it is unlikely that the judges were swayed by political pressure. “The ruling was based on the evidence presented,” he insists. “Some people may question the timing of the court’s decision but in the end the judge ruled on the basis of the evidence presented by the prosecution.”
Following the massacre political activists accused the then ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and remnants of the old regime of allowing the disaster to happen as part of a “counter-revolutionary” strategy.
While tensions were high in the stadium at the start of the game, with bottles and stones being thrown at the Ahli team, eyewitnesses say the police did nothing to stop the confrontation, and when violence broke out they refused to open the stadium gates to allow the crowds to escape. Many of the victims died in the ensuing crush.
Egypt’s worst-ever football disaster sent shockwaves through a country struggling to recover from the aftermath of the revolution that ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

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