Protests after Egypt sentences 529 MB members to death

'Grotesque', says Amnesty. Al Jazeera journalists on trial

24 March, 19:54

    Al Jazeera journalists trial in Cairo Al Jazeera journalists trial in Cairo

    (ANSAmed) - ROME - Amnesty International called death sentences handed down in mass by a court in the Upper Egypt city of Minya on Monday ''a grotesque example of the shortcomings and selective nature of Egypt's justice system''. The 529 defendants, supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi, were sentenced to death for their alleged role in violence after the Muslim Brotherhood president was ousted in July 2013. The charges include killing two policemen, riots in August and membership in a terrorist organization, as the Muslim Brotherhood was recently declared by the Egyptian authorities to be. The death sentences are part of a trial for 1,200 Muslim Brotherhood supporters in relation to clashes in Upper Egypt on August 14, 2013. Most of the defendants were judged in absentia.

    Seventeen were acquitted on Monday, while over the next two days some 700 others will go before a judge on charges of attacking a police station and taking part in the clashes and violence.

    Among the latter is the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie. The Muslim Brotherhood immediately lashed out at the sentences condemning 529 of ousted president Morsi to death. Hamza Zoubaa, spokesman for the movement's Freedom and Justice political party, said on Twitter that ''with the sentencing to death of revolutionaries, the revolution has entered a new phase and the result will be both unexpected and unprecedented''. The extremist movement Gamaa Islamiya also pledged to engage in ''new forms of opposition against the military coup''. Several protests began in the Minya governorate after the sentence and thousands took to the streets in Samalout, Mattay and the University of Minya, while the news agency MENA reports that hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters set fire to a Mattay school and that the building had been evacuated. Amnesty International said that the sentences were unjust and that they ''must be quashed. Imposing death sentences of this magnitude in a single case makes Egypt surpass most other countries' use of capital punishment in a year,'' said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director.

    ''Egypt's courts are quick to punish Mohamed Morsi's supporters but ignore gross human rights violations by the security forces. While thousands of Morsi's supporters languish in jail, there has not been an adequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Just one police officer is facing a prison sentence, for the deaths of 37 detainees.'' Despite repeated requests over several years, the human rights organization said, Egyptian authorities refuse to release data on death sentences and executions. It has been brought to Amnesty International's attention, however, that ''Egyptian courts handed down at least 109 death sentences in 2013, after at least 91 death sentences in 2012, and at least 123 in 2011''.

    Deep concern over the sentencing to death of 529 individuals on Monday by a court in the Upper Egypt city of Minya was expressed by Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information. Eid called the sentence ''unacceptable''. ''Never before has such a sentence been handed down in the history of Egypt, and probably that of the entire world,'' Eid told ANSA, saying that he was sure the sentence would be ''modified'' and mitigated in successive appeals. However, he noted, the mass death sentence would leave its mark on Egyptians and their memories. The director of the center concluded by saying that ''many - even those that do not belong to the Brotherhood, have begun to harbor doubts about the Egyptian justice system after this sentence.'

    The third hearing in the trial of 20 Al-Jazeera journalists also opened on Monday in Cairo. Sixteen of the journalists are Egyptians accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood - which has been declared a terrorist organization by Egyptian authorities - and four are foreigners: two British nationals, one Australian and one Dutch. The prosecutor alleges that the foreigners collaborated with the Egyptian journalists in manipulating video footage ''to produce unreal scenes to suggest abroad that the country is undergoing a civil war''. The court adjourned the trial to next Monday, after hearing statements from the defense lawyers. Lawyer Khaled Abou Bakr requested that the accused be allowed to leave the Al-Akrab maximum-security wing of the notorious Egyptian Tora prison as they have suffered ''torture and assault by security guards'' there, citing as well ''a lack of adequate healthcare services''. The lawyer then asked that one of the defendants, Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, be hospitalized after problems with his arm and hand



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