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Egypt 'farcical' mass trials under fire

Muslim Brotherhood families and rights groups denounce Egypt's sentences as West's reaction to Morsi death penalty criticised
Egyptian Judge Shaban Elshamy (2nd R) is seen during a trial in Cairo on 16 June, 2015 (AA)

The mass death sentences handed down against former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and dozens of Muslim Brotherhood leaders on charges of espionage and escaping prison have invited a storm of criticism from their families.

"The death penalty against my father is nothing but a farce," Aisha, the daughter of Muslim Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat al-Shater, told Anadolu Agency.

On Tuesday, an Egyptian court sentenced Morsi and nearly 100 people to death on charges of taking part in a mass jailbreak during Egypt’s 2011 uprising that ended the rule of autocratic president Hosni Mubarak.

The court also slapped Morsi with a life sentence on charges of conspiring with Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah to carry out "terrorist acts" in Egypt.

The same court sentenced 16 Brotherhood leaders, including al-Shater, to death on charges of conspiring with Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Aisha, however, said the death sentences had been expected.

"These farcical trials have been expected since there was no respect of the law," she said.

Egypt has been dogged by turmoil since the military ousted Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president, in a 2013 coup following mass protests against his administration.

Since Morsi's removal, Egyptian authorities have launched a relentless crackdown on dissent that has largely targeted Morsi supporters, leaving hundreds dead and thousands behind bars.

'Politically driven'

A defiant Aisha said the mass death sentences will not destroy the Muslim Brotherhood, the group which swept parliamentary and presidential elections following Mubarak’s deposal.

"Though the authorities had hanged many [Brotherhood] leaders in the 1950s, the Brotherhood has survived," Aisha said, referring to the hanging of scores of Brotherhood leaders during the era of former President Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

The son of Morsi described the death penalty against his father and Brotherhood leaders as "politically driven".

"We do not recognise these verdicts," Osama Morsi told Anadolu Agency.

He said the court rulings – which are still subject to appeal – reflect "the demise and fear of the coup regime and its attempt to escape from the sword of the revolution".

"These are politicised verdicts and those responsible for these farcical trials will be put on trial," he added.

Ammar al-Beltagi, the son of senior Brotherhood leader Mohamed al-Beltagi, said the verdicts reflect “the nature of military regimes”.

"[The sentences] reflect the nature of the military coup, which relies on killings as its sole technique," Ammar wrote on his Facebook page.

Ammar, whose father was slapped with the death penalty in the espionage case and a life sentence in the jailbreak case, called for rallying efforts to fight what he described as corruption, tyranny and terrorism.

"The solution lies with resisting the oppressor," he said.

Meanwhile, Sondos Assem, 26, a former aide to Morsi who was sentenced to death in absentia in the espionage case, believes the rulings would embarrass Sisi.

"The military regime in Egypt has embarrassed itself by issuing such oppressive verdicts," Assem told Anadolu Agency. "I strongly condemn these politicised verdicts, which were issued by a judicial system that lacks the least standards of independence and fairness."

Tuesday’s verdicts have already triggered worldwide condemnations with rights groups calling for the release of all prisoners held in "politically-motivated" trials in Egypt.

HRW: 'flawed mass prosecutions'

Meanwhile, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Egyptian government to stop the executions.

HRW said in a statement on Tuesday: "Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all cases and has called on the Egyptian government to halt executions."

Since Morsi’s removal from office, Egyptian authorities have executed seven people for allegedly committing violent crimes against the new government or its supporters, and sentenced about 600 people to death, according to the statement. 

"The [16 June] cases … were compromised by due process violations and appear to have been politically motivated. The convictions are based almost entirely on security officials’ testimony," the statement said.

It also said: "A Human Rights Watch review of prosecution case file summaries found little evidence other than the testimony of military and police officers to support the convictions of Morsi and 130 others for a 2011 prison break, and of Morsi and 35 others for conspiring with foreign powers against the state."

The HRW said the full written judgments have not yet been made public.

"These prosecutions show that Egyptian courts are ready to sentence the government’s opponents to death with barely any regard for due process," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East and North Africa director.

Whitson added: "They follow in a line of flawed mass prosecutions brought against the members of the Muslim Brotherhood."

Amnesty International has also slammed the Morsi verdict.

"This appalling outcome is sadly not surprising. It’s just another symptom of how horrendously broken Egypt’s justice system has become," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme, said.

West's reaction to Morsi death penalty criticised

Meanwhile, experts have criticised the reactions of Western countries, including the US, over the Egyptian military-led government's handing down of death sentences.

John Esposito, an American professor of international affairs and Islamic studies at the Georgetown University in Washington DC, told Anadolu Agency that the institution of democracy itself had become non-existent in Egypt under President Sisi.

"Egypt is not on the path to democracy. There is no democracy or desire for democracy under Sisi in Egypt today," Esposito said.

He highlighted that violence under Sisi's rule had become greater than any other previous government in modern Egyptian history. "With the collusion of Mubarak era-appointed judges, Egypt has witnessed pro forma, show trials that have resulted in mass trials [and] mass death sentences," he said.

Emad el-Din Shahin, a visiting professor at Georgetown University, also slammed Egypt's judicial system.

"It has become a tool in the hands of a repressive military regime to eliminate political opponents. It is highly politicised and exhibits a complete disregard for the rule of law and due process," Shahin, who was one of the people referred in Egypt for allegedly being part of Muslim Brotherhood, told Anadolu Agency.

He urged the international community to "not reward the al-Sisi regime".

While the White House has expressed that it is "deeply troubled" by the outcome of the Morsi trial, experts say Washington could, if it wanted, put its weight on Cairo and prevent Sisi from wiping out the Muslim Brotherhood from the political sphere.

Ramsey Clark, former US attorney-general, told Anadolu Agency that Washington was instead showing a "lack of influence on Egypt".

"There should be no support for dictators, this is what a democratic country must show," Clark said.  

But, instead of imposing sanctions on Cairo, Washington lifted a hold on military assistance to Egypt, which was placed in 2013 because of the government's violent crackdowns on the opposition that killed many pro-democracy supporters.

US President Barack Obama also approved the delivery of a dozen F-16 aircraft to Egypt and pledged to request from the US Congress $1.3 billion in annual military assistance for Egypt.

Also, apart from the US, some European countries including Germany, have received Sisi during his recent visits abroad, signing contracts worth billions of dollars despite his government's poor human rights records. 

However, Germany’s foreign ministry criticised the "inhumane" death sentences on Wednesday, urging the Egyptian judiciary to comply with international standards and guarantee an impartial trial.

"There should not be a political conviction," the ministry said.