Elham Asaad Buaras
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, voiced his “strong concerns” over the mass death sentences delivered to 529 supporters of Egypt’s ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
Ban raised his concern over the issue during meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy, in Brussels on the sidelines of a European Union-African summit.
“The Secretary General conveyed to the minister his strong concerns regarding the mass death penalty sentences announced recently, as well as the detention of journalists,” Ban’s press office said in a statement.
The UN’s Human Rights Council said the death sentence delivered on March 24 flouted international law, voicing concern for thousands of others facing the same charges.
Morsi supporters are facing a deadly crackdown launched by the military-installed authorities since he was ousted in July, with hundreds of people killed and thousands arrested.
They are accused of attacking both people and public property in southern Egypt in August, after security forces broke up two Cairo protest camps set up by Morsi supporters on August 14.
They are also charged with committing acts of violence that led to the deaths of two policemen in Minya, judicial sources said.
Figures reveal Egypt’s military-backed Government has jailed nearly 16,000 people over the past few months.
Anti-Government demonstrators have been holding rallies almost on a daily basis, demanding that Morsi be reinstated.
Rights groups say at least 1,400 people have been killed in the violence since the ouster of Morsi, “most of them due to excessive force used by security forces.”
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said, “The mass imposition of the death penalty after a trial rife with procedural irregularities is in breach of international human rights law. A mass trial of 529 people conducted over just two days cannot possibly have met even the most basic requirements for a fair trial,” he said.
398 of the defendants were tried in absentia, and the exact charges against each defendant were unclear as they were not read out in court and not all defendants had a lawyer.
“It is particularly worrying that there are thousands of other defendants who have been detained since last July on similar charges,” said Colville.
Defence lawyers said that they did not have proper access to their clients and that the court did not consider evidence they had presented on their behalf, he said.
Some boycotted the trial, complaining of irregularities. “We refrained from attending … because the judge has violated criminal law procedures and did not allow the [lawyers] to present their defence,” Adel Ali, a member of the defence team.
Amnesty International said the mass death sentences are a grotesque example of the shortcomings and the selective nature of Egypt’s justice system.
Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said, “This is injustice writ large and these death sentences must be quashed. Imposing death sentences of this magnitude in a single case makes Egypt surpass most other countries’ use of capital punishment in a year.”
“This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world.
“Egypt’s courts are quick to punish Mohamed Morsi’s supporters but ignore gross human rights violations by the security forces. While thousands of Morsi’s supporters languish in jail, there has not been an adequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Just one police officer is facing a prison sentence, for the deaths of 37 detainees.”
“Without an independent and impartial process that can deliver truth and justice for all, many will question whether Egypt’s criminal justice system has indeed anything to do with justice. In any event, recourse to the death penalty is inherently unjust, and the Egyptian authorities should impose a moratorium on executions, with a view to abolishing it.”
EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, also criticised the court’s verdict and called for the authorities to guarantee a fair trial.
“This is particularly important for the credibility of Egypt’s transition towards democracy,” she said in a statement.