by Ayman Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 2, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1435)
Even by the brutal standards of the Egyptian military, the mass death sentences in one case—529 people sentenced to death for the killing of one policeman—have sent shockwaves globally. The regime may be digging its own grave.
Even by Egypt’s brutal standards, the death sentences handed down to 529 people on March 24 are shockingly grotesque. The notorious judge Saeed Youssef of al-Minya’s Seventh District, surpassed even his own brutal record by the massive number of death sentences he handed down simultaneously.
Amnesty International denounced the verdict as “grotesque,” saying “this is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world.” Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International, said, “This is injustice writ large and these death sentences 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.”
Reaction from elsewhere was no less harsh. “We are deeply concerned — and, I would say, actually pretty shocked — by the sentencing to death of 529 Egyptians related to the death of one policeman,” said US State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Hart on March 24. Even Jordan’s Queen Noor tweeted that the entire affair was “horrifying” and “counterproductive” for Egypt. Perhaps Egypt’s military rulers and their minions have no regard for others’ opinion since they appear determined to crush any and all opposition to their brutal rule. Egyptian lawyer Negad Borai said the decision was a manifestation of “the collapse, even in the most technical ways, of executing justice.”
While the sentences will be reviewed by the mufti of Egypt, that will offer little consolation to those sentenced to death or to their families. What was their crime to get such harsh sentences that defence lawyers have said they will appeal?
While the sentences will be reviewed by the mufti of Egypt, that will offer little consolation to those sentenced to death or to their families. What was their crime to get such harsh sentences that defence lawyers have said they will appeal? The defendants were accused of attacking and burning the Matay police station, killing a police officer and attempting to kill two others last August. They were also accused of taking weapons from the station and disrupting public order.
Even under normal circumstances, the sentencing of 529 people to death for attacking a single police station would be considered harsh and excessive. People were enraged when protesters at a peaceful sit-in were attacked and slaughtered in Rabi‘ah al-‘Adawiyah Square on August 14, 2013. The orders to shoot to kill had come directly from General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Zionist who had carried out the coup against the only legitimately elected government of President Mohamed Mursi in Egypt’s entire history. Several thousand people were either killed or injured in the attack. Among the dead and wounded were women and children. Two days later, when funeral prayers were being held for the martyrs, more innocent people were killed by the police, other security forces and hired thugs of the regime.
Aware that these facts would be brought to light during the trial, the judge refused to allow the defence team to present its case. The defence request to change the judge and the venue was also dismissed. Such a request would be routinely granted especially in a case where so many defendants are on trial and the defence team does not feel justice would be served. Their fears were not unfounded.
The judge handed down sentences based on allegations made by the prosecution against anyone that opposes the regime. He is branded a terrorist and must, therefore, be physically eliminated. The notorious judge will probably be awarded by the military for handing down the largest number of death sentences in a single case anywhere in the world. The Egyptian judiciary, however, needs no such encouragement. It is stacked with the most ruthless bunch of people masquerading as judges. They know nothing about the law or its fair application. They are butchers that have brought disgrace to the legal profession.
The Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm, has listed some of the bizarre verdicts handed down by this particular judge. A man accused of stealing women’s clothing from a shop was sentenced to 30 years in jail. In most countries, that would be more than a person gets for committing murder. On the flip side, he freed all 11 defendants accused of killing protesters in Beni Sueif during the January 25 uprising. So the judge has his priorities laid out: stealing from a shop is a bigger crime than committing coldblooded murder, especially if the killers happen to be pro-military thugs and the protesters are opposing a brutal regime.
Equally shocking is the reaction of some Egyptians to the verdict. Since the military-backed regime has shut down all media outlets except those that proclaim the military’s non-existent virtues, it is not surprising that people’s minds have been so polluted. The Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun) was declared a “terrorist” organization and its operations shut down last November. This has now been followed by such other paragons of free speech and democracy as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In twitter messages and other internet outlets, messages have been posted supporting the death sentences. One Twitter message said, “I support the death sentence verdict on the terrorists.” The message was accompanied by images of slain policemen and individuals and their grieving relatives. Others tweeted this is the only way to “save Egypt;” from what one wonders? Did these supporters of mass judicial murder consider the fact that the 529 people sentenced to death were accused of killing only one policeman? And the verdict was handed down without giving the defence the opportunity to present its case or rebuttal. Nor were the circumstances under which the attack on the police station occurred taken into account. After all, the police and army had just slaughtered several thousand people in cold blood. Is that irrelevant and were people completely unjustified in feeling outraged at the massacre? Even a former parliamentarian, calling himself a “liberal”, Muhammad Abu Hamed, proclaimed his complete support for the “execution of the terrorists.” This says a lot about the kind of liberalism Abu Hamed practices.
Shocking as these verdicts are, they were followed the next day by the trial of another 683 Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the same city — al-Minya. The city has gained notoriety, like the judge, for holding the most bizarre trials. Even some of its people support the harsh and scandalous verdicts against innocent people. Among those on trial on March 25 were the Ikhwan murshid (leader) Mohamed Badie. He refused to appear in court to protest the harsh sentences handed down to 529 people a day earlier. The defence team as well as the Lawyers’ Syndicate also boycotted court proceedings and held a press conference to denounce the harsh sentences.
It has become clear that while the military and the police shoot and kill people in cold blood, the judiciary is used to sentencing other innocent people to death for doing nothing more than defending themselves or members of their families. According to the Associated Press, the Egyptian military regime has arrested more than 16,000 people since the military coup last July. Many are held in extremely harsh conditions in Egypt’s notorious prisons where torture is rampant.
During the kangaroo trial, defendants are locked in cages like animals. This degrading treatment is meted out to people whose only crime is to demand their basic rights in a country that has been ruled by thugs and mass murderers for nearly 70 years. There is a toxic nexus between the military, judiciary and the interior ministry. They are buttressed by the corrupt businessmen that grease the palms of the military in shady deals and impoverish people.
The current death sentences will only intensify hatred for the thuggish judiciary and military that are aligned with the enemies of Islam and Muslims. The more they impose such harsh sentences, the greater will be the determination of people to resist them and ultimately banish them from the political sphere.
How many people will they send to the gallows?