Clampdown by Egyptian military governmentTuesday, April 29, 2014
Egypt condemns 683 to death in mass trial
Muslim Brotherhood’s leader among those sentenced to execution, as intolerance of dissent grows
MINYA — An Egyptian court sentenced the leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and 682 alleged supporters of the group to death yesterday, intensifying a crackdown on the movement that could trigger further protests and political violence ahead of an election next month. The case was the latest in a series of mass trials that have drawn international condemnation and stunned rights groups.
The Brotherhood, in a statement issued in London, described the ruling as “chilling” and said it would “continue to use all peaceful means to end military rule.” An Islamist alliance that includes the Brotherhood called on Egyptians to demonstrate against the death sentences in the streets of Cairo on Wednesday, as fears of a new wave of violence in the country grow.
The verdicts come as part of a massive crackdown by Egypt’s military-backed government against Islamist supporters of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi, carried out under the banner of a “war against terrorism.” More than 16,000 Brotherhood supporters have been arrested since Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, was removed from power.
The death sentence for Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s general guide or “spiritual leader,” will infuriate members of the group, which has been the target of raids, arrests and bans since the Army forced Morsi from power in July.
Badie, considered a conservative hardliner, was charged with crimes including inciting violence that followed the Army overthrow of Morsi, who is also on trial on an array of charges.
Badie, a slight, 70-year-old veterinary professor stood trial in Cairo yesterday in a separate case where he faces charges of murder and incitement to murder with 16 others, hours after the sentence was affirmed.
If his sentence is upheld, it would make him the most senior Brotherhood figure to receive capital punishment since one of the group’s leading ideologues, Sayed Qutb, was executed in 1966.
“If they executed me one thousand times I will not retreat from the right path,” Badie was quoted as saying by lawyer Osama Morsi, son of the ousted former president, who attended one of his trials in Cairo.
Elsewhere, in another case signalling growing intolerance of dissent by the military-backed authorities, a pro-democracy movement that helped ignite the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011 was banned by court order, judicial sources said yesterday.
A spokesman for the “6 April youth group,” Ahmad Abd Allah, said the banning of the group highlighted the extent of Egypt’s counter-revolution.
“It shows that it’s not just the Islamists who are being targeted, it’s also liberal groups like us. And (the government) will continue all the way to close down all democratic forces,” Abd Allah told The Guardian. “It’s just the beginning.”
The 683 men on trial were sentenced to death by Judge Said Youssef in the southern city of Minya on charges of killing a policeman and incitement to murder. According to reports, defence lawyers boycotted part of the proceedings. One said the process lasted just 10 minutes, another said the case involved more than 6,000 pages of court documents.
Youssef said he was referring the sentences to the Grand Mufti, the nation’s top Islamic official — a requirement under Egyptian law that is usually considered a formality but also gives room for the judge to change his mind. Of the 683, all but 68 were tried in absentia.
Suggesting there might be room for reversal, the same judge also reduced the sentences against 529 defendants indicted in a similar case in March, upholding the death penalty for only 37 and commuting the rest to life imprisonment. All the defendants were previously found guilty of lynching a policeman.
As word spread of the death sentences yesterday, relatives screamed and cried outside the court in Minya. Some fainted, others shouted “Where is the Justice?” In an image draped with symbolism, the tearful relatives were surrounded by soldiers holding AK-47 assualt rifles.
Some said their relatives on trial were not even supporters of the Brotherhood.
“This is a corrupt government. This is a failed regime. We have no real police. We have no real state,” said Sabah Hassan, whose son was sentenced to death.
Many of those present blamed Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the general who deposed Morsi. The former head of military intelligence under Mubarak is expected to easily win the presidential elections on May 26-27 in a country long ruled by men from the Army.
Reacting to the “chilling” court ruling, the Muslim Brotherhood appealed for help, saying the world can no longer afford to stay silent.
“The Muslim Brotherhood reaffirms it will continue to fight relentlessly for freedom and democracy in Egypt, and continue to use all peaceful means to end military rule and achieve justice for the Egyptian people,” the group’s London office said in a statement.
Herald with AP, Reuters