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Local and int'l outrage at Minya court's verdicts on Monday

Mass death sentence of 683 people, the second in a month, draws pointed condemnation both in Egypt and globally

Ahram Online , Monday 28 Apr 2014
An Egyptian woman looks at women overcome by emotion after a judge in Egypt sentenced to death 683 alleged supporters of the country's ousted Islamist president over acts of violence and the murder of policemen in the latest mass trial in the southern city of Minya, Egypt, Monday, April 28, 2014 (Photo: AP)
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Many Political figures both inside and outside of Egypt condemned of Monday's ruling by a Minya court to sentence 683 supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to death.

The defendants were convicted of attacking a police station in Adawa, near the southern city of Minya, and killing a police officer. The Muslim Brotherhood's Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie was among those convicted.

By Egyptian law, their sentences can't be carried out until they are reviewed by the Grand Mufti. Even then, an appeal by both the prosecution and the defendants' lawyers is expected.

It is the second mass death sentence in about a month – both have set records for being the biggest in Egyptian legal history. In March, the same Minya court sentenced 529 Morsi supporters to death for a separate attack on a police station which also left a police officer dead.

On Monday, the same court ruled on its March verdict after it was reviewed by the Grand Mufti. It upheld the death penalty for 37 of the defendants and lowered the sentence for the remaining 492 to life in prison.

After Monday's first ruling – the mass death sentence for 683 people – Osama Mohamed Morsi, son of the ousted president and also a lawyer, wrote on his Facebook page that he had visited Badie during the trial and found that he remained undeterred by the death sentences.

"If they execute a thousand people," Badie allegedly told Morsi, "I won't turn from the righteous path that we've chosen. Because we're not kidding when we said that dying for the sake of God was our most precious wish. May God accept our sacrifices."

Most of the comments under the Facebook post slammed Egypt's judiciary and some offered support to Badie, whose Brotherhood group was designated a terrorist organisation last December by the interim authorities.

In a statement issued from London, the Brotherhood described the ruling as chilling and said it would "continue to use all peaceful means to end military rule," Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the Strong Egypt party – founded by former Brotherhood member and 2012 presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh – was one of the first Egyptian political parties to slam the criminal court in Minya and its three verdicts.

In a statement issued after Monday's rulings, the party said that all three verdicts – given "without evidence or eye witnesses or hearings or interrogation" – are meant to "bring down the state."

The party warned that such sentences would make the people lose confidence in judicial authority as well other authorities in the country. It called on Egyptians to find peaceful ways to reject the current regime's attempts to "bring down the state" so that Egypt would be protected from "chaos".

The ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party, which parted ways with the Muslim Brotherhood by supporting the ouster of Morsi last July, also denounced the verdict, describing it as "shocking," Al-Ahram's Arabic website reported.

Nour Party leading member Talaat Marzouk said interim President Adly Mansour should adjust the verdict to avoid its negative domestic and international consequences.

Marzouk added that not respecting international treaties and agreements ratified by Egypt would lead the country into "a dark tunnel", in reference to the United Nation's safeguards against imposing the death penalty without clear and convincing evidence.

On the other hand, Nour Party general secretary Galal Morra refused to comment on the judicial verdicts, according to Al-Ahram Arabic news website.

Human rights lawyer Hafez Abu Seada slammed the court's verdict, insisting that it would be appealed "because there was no opportunity for the defendants to defend themselves legally," he wrote on Twitter.

According to the defendants' lawyers, the court verdict was issued after only two sessions without the introduction of evidence or allowing the defence to present its case.

The international reaction mirrored that from last month, which also pointedly condemned the mass death sentences.

The United States said that it was "deeply troubled" by the verdict, Reuters reported.

"Today's verdict, like the one last month, defies even the most basic standards of international justice. The Egyptian government has the responsibility to ensure that every citizen is afforded due process, including the right to a fair trial in which evidence is clearly presented, and access to an attorney," the White House said in a statement.

"We urge the Egyptian government to end the use of mass trials, reverse this and previous mass sentences, and ensure that every citizen is afforded due process." 

The United Nations also released a statement condemning the verdict, Reuters reported.

"The [UN] Secretary-General is alarmed by the news that another preliminary mass death sentence has been handed down today in Egypt, the first of which was on 24 March," said a statement from the UN press office.

"Verdicts that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those which impose the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability," the UN statement added.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was the first foreign official to comment on the ruling.

"The world must and will react," Bildt tweeted minutes after the news first began to spread online.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said that France was very "worried" about the death sentences on Monday, AFP reported.

He added that France was repeating its calls for the Egyptian authorities to guarantee a fair trial for the defendants, based on an independent investigation that respects the rights of the defendants and adheres to international standards and the Egyptian constitution.

In Turkey, a country at political odds with Egypt over the ouster of Morsi, President Abdullah Gul slammed the court sentences Monday afternoon in a joint press conference with German President Joachim Gauck in the capital Ankara.

"Such decisions are unacceptable in the 21st century. This harms Egypt’s own future. However, Egypt needs peace and economic development," Gul said at the press conference.

"We hope these people will be released" and that a period of free and democratic elections will be reopened in Egypt, he added.

German President Joachim Gauck also criticised the court's verdict at the same conference.

"We cannot understand such a domineering judgment by a temporary government to a society in transition," Gauck said. "Especially in transition periods, a superior jurisdiction system should be established rather than taking revenge."


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