Egypt death penalty verdict triggers global outcry

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AP Mohamed Morsy. File photo

An Egyptian court on Monday sentenced 529 supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy to death.

The death sentence passed by an Egyptian court against 529 supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy has triggered an outcry against the verdict among a wide cross-section of the legal community at home as well as influential human rights groups abroad.

The stunning verdict that has put hundreds on death row was issued by an Upper Egyptian court in the city of Minya. The defendants were found guilty of murdering Mostafa El-Attar, deputy commander of a local police station, who was killed during riots that followed the storming by security forces of two pro-Morsy sit-ins in August last.

Only 147 defendants were present in the court, while the remaining accused were either earlier released, set free on bail or remain at large.

Under Egyptian law, it is mandatory that all death sentences are ratified by the office of the Grand Mufti, which will now examine the papers of the defendants. The court will issue a final verdict on April 28.

The Egyptian website Ahram Online is quoting Ahmed Shabib, a lawyer from the Muslim Brotherhood — the parent organisation to which Mr. Morsy belongs — as saying that the defence lawyers will appeal against the verdicts, after receiving the reasoning behind the convictions. A request will also be made for the retrial of the defendants sentenced in absentia.

On its part, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership slammed the verdict, citing a string of legal lacunas. Mohamed Tosson, a Brotherhood leader denounced the judgment as “the fastest and most bizarre in the history of Egyptian judiciary”. He stressed that the verdict “is void under the criminal procedures law, under the penal code and under the recently ratified constitution”.

Mr. Tosson pointed out that the judge failed to grant time to the defence team to present its case–a serious violation of Egypt’s criminal procedures law.

Separately, a Brotherhood statement accused Egypt’s military backed interim authorities of launching “genocide” against protesters. “These verdicts will only make the revolutionaries more determined to topple the coup,” the statement warned. Egypt’s Lawyers’ Syndicate said it would publicly expose the legal violations in the verdict on Tuesday.

Amnesty International, the human rights group has expressed outrage at the mass death sentences, slamming the ruling as “grotesque”. The UK based organisation said that the convictions had revealed the “selective nature of Egypt’s justice system”.

Amnesty International Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said that while “thousands of Morsy’s supporters languish in jail, there has not been an adequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of protesters”.

The Egyptian judiciary is also under a cloud over the trial of 20 journalists, who belong to the broadcaster Al Jazeera. On Monday, the court, for a third time, denied bail to the defendants who have been accused of aiding or supporting the Brotherhood. The trial will re-commence on March 31.

This is not the first time that supporters of the Brotherhood and other Islamists have been targeted by the country’s secular authorities. Egypt’s iconic leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser had launched a massive campaign against the Brotherhood in 1964, which led to the execution two years later of Islamist thinker Syed Qutb, who was convicted for plotting the former President’s assassination.

The assassination of Nasser’s successor, Anwar Sadat, in 1982, led to the execution of five members of the radical Islamic Jihad group, including Khaled El-Islamboly.

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