Egypt Junta Orders More Mass Trials: More than 2,100 Now Face Death
March 27, 2014 Karl Vick / TIME.com & Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
The death sentence for 529 defendants, unprecedented in modern Egyptian history, came after a one-day trial that casts Egypt's military-backed government in even worse light amid its ruthless crackdown on dissent. Not stopping there, the junta's chief prosecutor announced two new mass trials of "suspected Islamists," one covering 715 people accused of involvement in anti-government rallies and another of 204 detainees accused of "inciting violence" by opposing the summer coup.
Egypt's Mass Death Sentencing of 529 People Stirs Global Outrage Karl Vick / TIME.com
(March 24, 2014) -- The death sentence for 529 defendants, unprecedented in modern Egyptian history, came after a controversial one-day trial that casts Egypt's military-backed government in even worse light amid its ruthless crackdown on dissent.
With the abrupt sentencing of 529 defendants to death after a one-day mass trial that allowed no genuine defense, Egypt's state institutions appear to be taking their cues from the terrorists they claim to be targeting.
The order Monday by a judge in Upper Egypt brought condemnation from rights groups and foreign observers in terms familiar to the aftermath of a car bomb -- "indiscriminate," "mass killing," "grotesque," "disaster," "exterminationist." Legal experts scrambled to find an instance in modern history where more executions were ordered in a single go, and came up empty.
"This is way over the top and unacceptable," Mohammed Zarei, a human rights attorney in Cairo, told the Associated Press. Egypt's courts, he said, were turning "from a tool for achieving justice to an instrument for taking revenge."
That has been the trend across the state apparatus since last July 3, when Egypt's military deposed the elected government led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the insular Islamists who had failed to bring the country together following the 2011 overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.
The new government's methods have been unapologetically blunt: 1,400 to 2,000 killed, including nearly 1,000 in August on a few blocks of the Cairo streets where Brotherhood loyalists camped out for weeks to protest the coup. The death sentences announced Monday arose from riots that broke out in response to that Cairo assault in August; protesters in Minya, 150 miles south of the capital, attacked a police station and a deputy commander was killed.
If blunt force has come to be expected in the street, however, it still stands out in a courtroom. Outraged reports from Minya took their weight from accumulation of details -- the airing and discussion of which are usually the point of a trial, but that judge Said Youssef refused even to hear.
The wife of one defendant, an attorney who frequently represented Brotherhood members, told Buzzfeed that phone and visitor logs showed he was in a meeting when the charges claimed he had been arrested. Another defendant was confined to a wheelchair by paralysis at the time of the disturbance.
Defense attorneys complained that they had no chance to examine investigative files running more than 3,000 pages. Only a fraction of the defendants were even present in the courtroom, where decorum deteriorated and bailiffs moved in after the judge refused to postpone proceedings so defense lawyers could read the evidence.
"The judge stood up, looked at us, put his hands on his belly and announced: Monday is the verdict," defense attorney Yasser Zidan told AP.
The stunning sentence that followed could yet be overturned by Egypt's Grand Mufti. But Monday's verdict stirred international opprobrium against an Egyptian regime that has arrested 16,000 citizens, declared the Brotherhood a "terrorist organization" and jailed journalists, human rights advocates and democratic activists who had been leaders in the 2011 uprising that deposed President Hosni Mubarak.
U.S. State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf said it was "pretty shocking" that 529 people were sentenced to die for the death of one policeman and it "defies logic" that they were all tried appropriately within just two days. "There's no place for politically motivated convictions in a country that's moving toward democracy," she said.
Dissent is not brooked by the current military-backed government. It pointedly refuses to draw any distinction between the Brotherhood, which historically eschews violence, and militant Islamist extremists who are waging guerrilla and terror attacks against the state in the Sinai Peninsula, and occasionally on the mainland.
Monday's sentence reflected the government's continued willingness not only to alienate Egyptians sympathetic to the Brotherhood, but label them as an enemy. "You cannot sentence 528 people to death at once," one observer Tweeted, giving an alternate total also circulating in reports. "That is a civil war."
The stage was set for Tuesday, when 682 more defendants are scheduled for trial, including the top Brotherhood official, Mohamed Badie, whose title is Supreme Guide. The proceedings are, once again, in Minya.
(March 26, 2014) -- Egypt's presumptive new president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has promised his regime won't engage in punitive action against its rivals, but that promise may be merely academic given the rate at which the junta is ordering mass trials and mass executions.
The first round of executions, ordered Monday, covered 529 pro-Morsi protesters, ordered killed as "terrorists" because a protest led to the death of a single junta police officer.
The international community barely had time to express outrage at that before the same judge was given another mass trial of supporters of the ousted election government, this time 683 more facing execution on similar pretexts.
Not stopping there, the junta's chief prosecutor announced two new mass trials of "suspected Islamists," one covering 715 people accused of involvement in rallies against government buildings in August, and another of 204 detainees accused of "inciting violence" by opposing the summer coup.
All told, that brings the number on trial or already sentenced to death to 2,131. Many of them are already in detention by the military, though a large number from today's new trials haven't even been arrested yet, and the mass trial order is to either try them in absentia or capture them sometime before the trial begins.
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