Egyptian Court Sentences Hundreds of Morsi Supporters to Death

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfamnovib/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfamnovib/

Since Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi was removed from office last July by the country’s military, security forces have cracked down harshly on Islamists and broken up most public demonstrations — killing as many as 1,400 people and landing more than 16,000 in jail, according to Amnesty International. Protests have been taking place nearly every Friday since August, and the violent protests that followed an August’s suppression of two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo killed hundreds of Egyptians and led to the arrest of hundreds as well. Of those arrested in the wake of last year’s violence, at least 528 Morsi supporters were convicted Monday by a southern Egyptian criminal court of murdering a policeman and attacking police; all were sentenced to death.

According to the official Middle East News Agency, 528 death sentences were handed down while other news outlets, including the Associated Press, have cited a higher number of 529 death sentences. The semi-official Ahram Online news site reported that this ruling produced the largest set of death sentences handed down to defendants in the modern history of Egypt. Sixteen other defendants were acquitted.

A total of 545 individuals were charged with crimes of murder, attempted murder, and stealing government weapons in connection to a deadly August attack on a police station in the southern Egyptian city of Minya, as The Associated Press reported. The trial consisted of just two sessions, the first of which took place Saturday and saw the judge refuse requests by the defense team for more time to review the case. “We didn’t have the chance to say a word or to look at more than 3,000 pages of investigation to see what evidence they are talking about,” Khaled el-Koumi, a lawyer representing 10 of the defendants, told the publication. However, legal experts informed the publication that the verdicts would be appealed and likely overturned or at least reduced. Furthermore, the ruling must still be ratified by Egypt’s Grand Mufti, the country’s leading authority on religious law, as state-run MENA reported.

Monday’s quick conviction has produced public outcry from human rights activists as well as the defense team. Mohammed Zarie, a Cair-based human rights lawyer who was not involved in the case, told The Associated Press that the rulings indicate that Egypt’s judicial system is becoming less a tool for achieving justice and more an instrument for taking revenge. “This is way over the top and unacceptable,” he said. “This verdict could be a precedent both in the history of Egyptian courts and perhaps, tribunals elsewhere in the world.” The United Nations has even reprimanded the country for its bloody crackdown on dissent.

The verdicts themselves spawned further demonstrations, with police arresting three protesters Monday. There is a common theme running throughout the protests that have remained a constant presence in Egyptian political life since Morsi was deposed; protestors and the signs they carry cry “down with military rule.” As the campus leader of Cairo University’s anti-military group Students Against the Coup — who goes by the nom de guerre Salma Saleh — told the Daily Beast’s Jesse Rosenfeld that those Egyptians protesting the current regime “want the basic demands of the revolution back,” referring to the demonstrations that took place in Tahrir Square in January and February of 2011 and ended the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. “We want our freedom back,” she said. “We want bread and social justice,” she added, paraphrasing the slogan of the revolt that deposed Mubarak.

Morsi — the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who in June 2012 became the first popularly-elected president of Egypt — was removed from office by military coup on July 3 following widespread protests of his usurpation of power and drafting of an Islamic-backed constitution; Egypt’s military-installed government has revised the constitution; and, Military commander Abedel Fatah al-Sissi is expected to become the next president after upcoming elections this Spring. The country’s generals have been concentrating power both politically and economically, and the banned Muslim Brotherhood’s London-based spokesperson argued that the sentences handed down by the “Kangaroo court” was proof that Egypt was now a dictatorship.”It may be just a threat message and there will be appeals to the court and the decision of the court will change, but this is the new Egypt after the coup,” he told the BBC. “This is the new dictatorship that [army chief and defence minister Field Marshal] Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is trying to establish.”

The disposed president faces a myriad of charges that range from inciting deadly violence to espionage, while a majority of the leaders of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood — the country’s largest and oldest Islamist group — are also behind bars, facing similar charges. The Muslim Brotherhood has been deemed a terrorist organization by the state, and  authorities have blamed it for the militant violence plaguing the country, allegations they deny.

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