A mass trial in the Upper Egypt court ended with 529 supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood sentenced to death on charges of attacking police and murdering a police officer. Monday’s ruling came after only two sessions in the Minya court. Those sentenced to death were part of mass trial of 545 defendants. Out of the 545 being tried for attacking a police station, the killing of a police officer, the attempted killing of two other police officers, and various acts of violence, only 16 were acquitted. There were 147 suspects standing trial while the remaining 398 were tried in absentia.
The violence and killing occurred as part of a backlash of police crackdowns in August in Cairo over pro-Morsi sit-in demonstrations and protest camps. The police action which turned violent, ended with hundreds dead. In retaliation, some Islamists attacked police and Egypt’s Coptic Christians. Some blamed the Coptic Christians for supporting the July removal of Morsi from office.
Mohamed Morsi served as Egypt’s fifth president from June 30, 2012 until July 3, 2013. While previous presidents were also named through elections, those elections have been reported with allegations of both tampering and falsifications. Morsi was the first democratically elected state head in the history of Egypt. Prior to his election as president, he was a Member of Parliament until 2005. When it was founded in 2011, he became Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party. His presidential victory was announced on June 24, 2012 and he took office on June 30.
Exactly one year later on June 30, 2013, another Egyptian revolution erupted. At this time, protestors called for Morsi’s resignation. In the wake of these events, Morsi was unseated on July 3, 2013 by a military council. The council not only established a new administration but also began a series of crackdowns on the Muslim Brotherhood which resulted in hundreds of deaths. September 1, 2013 saw Morsi referred to trial for inciting deadly violence.
The death toll appears as it may continue with 529 defendants and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood being sentenced to death by the Egypt court. The mass hearing found those 529 responsible for the murder of the deputy commander of the Matay district police station in Minya. The deputy commander, Mostafa El-Attar, was a casualty of riots in the aftermath of the August Rabaa sit-in dispersal. According to a state news agency, the Matay police station was set ablaze and police weapons were seized in the riots. Defendants were charged with the disruption of public order, attacking public property, the killing of Mostafa El-Attar, and the attempted killing of two other police officers.
The trial began on Saturday, March 22 and ended Monday, March 24 with the acquittal of 16 defendants and a death sentence of the remaining 529 by the Egypt court. The trial began with defense lawyers demanding recusal of the judges’ panel, indicating that the panel was biased. The request for recusal was rejected. While reportedly harsh punishments in response to offenses have become common under the interim government, lawyers indicate that it was unprecedented for a death penalty to be handed down for such a large group of defendants all at once. Morsi is also on trial in Cairo for a variety of charges, several of which could carry the death penalty. Egypt law allows the death penalty verdict to be appealed. In the meantime, the sentenced defendants’ paperwork will be sent to the office of the grand mufti. The law stipulates that all death sentences must be reviewed and ratified by the mufti.
By Dee Mueller