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Egypt court sentences 183 Morsi supporters to death

Mass sentence approved for men accused of involvement in 2013 'massacre' at police station
The group were sentenced for involvement in the 'Kerdasa Massacre,' when 16 police officers were killed in 2013 (AFP)

A court in a southern district of Cairo sentenced to death 183 people convicted in Egypt’s infamous “Kerdasa Massacre Case”.

The European Union and Amnest International condemned the court's action. The United State voiced concerns about the fairness of the trials.

The charges date back to an August 2013 attack on a police station in the small village of Kerdasa, some 20 kilometres south-west of the capital Cairo.

Sixteen police officers were killed when the building was stormed and then besieged for over five hours.

Autopsies later found that the victims’ bodies showed signs of torture.

In the aftermath of the attack, 188 supporters of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood were arrested from the village of Kerdasa, and were later charged with offences ranging from murder to damaging public property.

The group were sentenced on Monday by a court in Giza, a city just east of Kerdasa.

183 of them were sentenced to death by hanging, 35 of them in absentia.

Death sentences had originally been passed for 185 of the men, but two were subsequently dropped when the court learned that the men had already died.

Two of the original group of 188 defendants were acquitted, while Ali Mohammed Farhat, who was 15 at the time of the alleged crime, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The death sentences were originally passed by a Giza court on 2 December 2014, but had to be referred to Egypt’s mufti, the country’s highest religious authority, to be approved.

The mufti ruled that the death sentences recommended by the court were justified because there was sufficient evidence to prove the men’s guilt.

The court did not mention when the death sentences will be carried out, and the men are expected to appeal the judgement.

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which maintains the legitimacy of former president Mohammed Morsi, allege that the charges are politically motivated, as Egypt’s current government pursues a crackdown against the group.

Islam Abdul Rahman, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, told MEE that the judgement “proves what people have known now for a while: that the judiciary is totally politicised in Egypt.”

“If, as in the case of Peter Greste, you negotiate with the military junta, you will get your people out. But if you oppose them then you will get the maximum penalty whether you are innocent or not.”

Greste, an Australian journalist who worked for the Al-Jazeera channel, was deported from Egypt on Monday morning after spending over 400 days in prison over charges that he aided a “terrorist organisation,” the Muslim Brotherhood.

Two of his colleagues, Baher Mohammed and Mohammed Fahmy, remain in Cairo’s Tora Prison, having been sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison on the same charges.

The European Union said Egypt violated the country's international human rights obligations by sentencing the men to death.

"Today's decision of a court in Egypt to sentence 183 defendants to death following a mass trial is in violation of Egypt's international human rights obligations," the EU's foreign service said in a statement.

The statement recalled that the EU categorically opposes capital punishment, which it says is cruel and inhuman and fails to act as a deterrent.

Amnesty International said the mass sentences were "outrageous," saying they are "yet another example of the bias of the Egyptian criminal justice system".

The group's statement on Monday criticised the trial, during which the only witnesses were either police officers or the relatives of police officers.

While expressing condolences for the victims of the attack, US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "It simply seems impossible that a fair review of evidence and testimony could be achieved through mass trials."

She urged the Egyptian government to ensure due process for the accused on the merits of individual cases for all Egyptians.

The men's defence team alledge that they were not allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses, and that not all witnesses were called up to give evidence during the trial.

"These verdicts and sentences must be quashed, and all of those convicted should be given a trial that meets international standards of fairness".

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which maintains the legitimacy of former president Mohammed Morsi, allege that the charges are politically motivated, as Egypt’s current government pursues a crackdown against the group.

Islam Abdul Rahman, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, told MEE that the judgement “proves what people have known now for a while: that the judiciary is totally politicized in Egypt”.

“If, as in the case of Peter Greste, you negotiate with the military junta, you will get your people out. But if you oppose them then you will get the maximum penalty whether you are innocent or not”.

Peter Greste, an Australian journalist who worked for the Al-Jazeera channel, was deported from Egypt on Monday morning after spending over 400 days in prison there over charges that he aided a “terrorist organisation,” the Muslim Brotherhood.

Two of his colleagues, Baher Mohammed and Mohammed Fahmy, remain in Cairo’s Tora Prison, having been sentenced in 2014 to ten years in prison on the same charges.

Toby Cadman, an expert in international law, told MEE on Monday that the sentences, coming on the day of Greste's release, are an "affront to justice".

"The timing of the announcement to coincide with Greste's release suggests that they are trying to paint an air of legitimacy.

"But at no stage have the clear flaws in the process, including the flagrant denial of the accused's fair trial rights, been addressed".

A total of 973 convicts are now facing execution in Egypt.

Morsi to face new trial for 'harming Egypt's national interest' 

Former president Morsi will face trial on 15 February, alongside 10 others, over charges of spying for and leaking confidential documents to Qatar.

Morsi and his co-defendants are accused of leaking documents concerning Egypt’s national security to the Qatari intelligence services, as well as to Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera, with the aim of “harming Egypt’s military and diplomatic status…and national interests”.

Among the other defendants are the former head of Morsi's office, Ahmed Abdel-Ati, and his secretary Ameen al-Serafi, along with employees of the Al-Jazeera news network and the Muslim Brotherhood's Misr 25 satellite channel.

The February trial announced on Monday will be the fourth for Morsi, who also faces separate charges of inciting the murder of opposition demonstrators, breaking out of jail and spying for Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

Morsi, like his co-defendants, says all the charges against him are politically motivated.