Thu, Dec 04, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Egypt sentences 188 to death for police killings

DOUBLE STANDARDS:Rights advocates said the swift, evidence-poor ruling against the alleged militants stands in stark contrast to Mubarak’s acquittal on a technicality

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE, CAIRO

A woman on Tuesday shouts anti-government slogans at a rally in Cairo protesting the dropping of charges against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, his interior minister and six aides over the killing of protesters in a 2011 uprising.

Photo: Reuters

In the third such mass sentencing in less than a year, an Egyptian court on Tuesday condemned a group of nearly 200 defendants to die after a single mass trial in the killing of a handful of police officers during a riot last year.

A court in Giza, across the Nile from Cairo, issued a death sentence to 188 people accused of being supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and charged in the killing of 11 police officers during an attack on a police station in the town of Kardasa in August last year.

A defense lawyer said there had been no effort to prove that any individual defendant personally killed any of the officers, while more than 100 of the defendants were not allowed to have lawyers and scores of defense witnesses were barred from court.

The death sentence came after a Cairo court on Saturday cited a procedural technicality to dismiss charges against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who had been accused of overseeing the police shootings of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators in 2011. Rights advocates argued that the juxtaposition — hyper-scrupulousness in the case of Mubarak versus a rush to the gallows for the 188 defendants — captured the systematic bias of Egyptian courts.

“It is just one more piece of evidence that the judiciary is just a political tool the government uses to prosecute its enemies and free the people it wants to be freed,” said Sarah Lee Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa director.

In addition to the high-profile cases involving mass sentences, the courts have handed down a long series of death sentences to smaller groups of Brotherhood members around Egypt, a dozen or two dozen at a time, usually with little notice.

The death sentences issued on Tuesday will now be reviewed by the Grand Mufti — the state’s official Muslim religious authority — before being finalized by the court and the defendants then have the right to appeal. About 50 of the defendants were tried in absentia, according to state media, and they will be entitled to a retrial if they appear.

Two of the 188 defendants died during their imprisonment and one is ineligible for the death penalty because he is a minor, said Mohamed Magdy, a lawyer who said he represented 15 of the accused.

As in the other big death penalty cases, Tuesday’s verdict grew out of the violent backlash against security forces after the mass shooting on Aug. 14 last year of almost 1,000 Muslims camped out in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in support of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.

The judge who handed down the ruling, Judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata, has a reputation for harsh sentences in political cases. He recently sentenced three journalists for al-Jazeera’s English-language network for allegedly conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to broadcast false reports and destabilize Egypt.

Shehata sentenced the trio to at least seven years in prison, despite an absence of evidence.

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