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article image'Industrial scale' justice as Egypt court sentences 683 to death

By Robert Myles     Apr 29, 2014 in World
Minya - A court in Egypt, Monday, recommended the death penalty for 683 people after a mass trial that’s been heavily criticized both by European government leaders and human rights organizations.
One of the accused who may face the death penalty is Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie but, like hundreds of others accused, Badie was not even in court for a trial defense lawyers slammed as “farcical.”
Egypt’s latest instalment of mass produced justice rolled off the production line at a courtroom in Minya, on the banks of the river Nile, about 250 kilometers south of Cairo. Nearly 700 defendants faced charges of being involved in an attack on a Minya police station in 2013 that resulted in the death of a policeman.
According to Human Rights Watch, BBC reports, the Minya trials took just hours each, on top of which the court prevented defense lawyers arguing the case for defendants. Of the 683 individuals sentenced yesterday, just 50 are actually in detention. The remaining defendants have the right to a retrial but only if they surrender to Egyptian authorities.
These hundreds of defendants faced charges of involvement in the murder and attempted murder of local police in Minya on Aug. 14, 2014, the same day police in Cairo killed hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Cairo.
The Minya trial followed the same format as another mass trial in the same town, concluded March 22, when 529 people were sentenced to death. The earlier trial was also criticized by Human Rights Watch.
In neither of the trials were defendants present in court, according to Amnesty International.
At the earlier trial, when 529 individuals facing charges were tried in their absence, the trial lasted less than an hour and prosecutors failed to advance any evidence implicating individual defendants. As at yesterday’s court hearing, defence lawyers were similarly prevented from calling witnesses or presenting their case.
Two days after the “trial” in March the court reconvened to pronounce guilty verdicts on all 529 defendants.
On Monday, the judge in Minya commuted the death sentence as it applied to 492 of the earlier batch of 529 defendants, but 37 of those earlier accused now face the prospect of the death penalty imposed by a process of summary justice at its most cynical.
So cynical, that BBC correspondent Orla Guerin, reporting from Minya, told of one woman whose son had been sentenced to death, Monday — except the woman’s son had died three years ago.
These latest trials are part of a continuing crackdown by the Egyptian authorities on Islamists since Egypt’s last elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, was ousted by the Egyptian military in July 2013.
Morsi remains in custody facing a number of trials, as does one of yesterday’s defendants, Mohammed Badie.
Badie has headed the Egyptian branch of the international Muslim Brotherhood organization since 2010 and has been a member of the group’s governing council since 1996. The Egyptian authorities arrested him on Aug. 20, 2013 on charges of inciting violence in Cairo last summer in which more than 50 people were killed.
European governments were swift to criticize yesterday’s “verdicts.”
The French Foreign Office said France was “extremely concerned” by reports that 683 new death sentences had been handed down.
Re-iterating France’s strong opposition to the death penalty, the statement called upon authorities in Egypt “to ensure that the defendants receive a fair trial that is based on an independent investigation and respects the rights of the defense, in accordance with international standards and the provisions of the Egyptian constitution.”
UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said, “we are deeply concerned by reports that many of the defendants were tried in their absence and did not have proper legal representation in court,” adding, “these sentences damage the reputation of Egypt’s judicial system, and are likely to undermine international confidence about progress towards reform and democratisation in Egypt.”
Hague said that he was particularly concerned at the potential negative impact such sentences had on the Egyptian Government’s ability to take forward an inclusive political process, which, he said, “ is the best way to achieve long term stability in Egypt and to address the country’s challenges.”
Death sentences on an “industrial scale”
Campaign group Amnesty International roundly condemned the latest batch of death sentences in Egypt. The organization’s Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said, “Egypt’s judiciary risks becoming just another part of the authorities’ repressive machinery, issuing sentences of death and life imprisonment on an industrial scale.”
Sahraoui commented, “Today’s decisions once again expose how arbitrary and selective Egypt’s criminal justice system has become,” continuing, “the court has displayed a complete contempt for the most basic principles of a fair trial and has utterly destroyed its credibility.”
“It’s time for Egypt’s authorities to come clean and acknowledge that the current system is neither fair nor independent or impartial,” Sahraoui concluded.
Yesterday’s court sentences take to well over 1,000 the number of people sentenced to death in Egypt since last December.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been designated a terrorist group by Egyptian authorities, who’ve blamed it for a number of bombings and attacks on the military and law enforcement, charges which the Muslim Brotherhood has strongly refuted.
More about Muslim brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi, mohammed badie, mass sentencing in Egypt, Egypt death sentence
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