An Egyptian court Wednesday handed down yet another multiple death sentence, issuing a capital verdict for a dozen Islamist defendants accused in the death of a senior police officer last year.
The condemned men, held in a caged dock as is the standard practice in Egyptian courts, responded to the death verdict with defiant shouts of “God is great!”
Mass tribunals involving dozens or even hundreds of defendants have become commonplace in recent months in Egypt, drawing strong criticism from human rights groups and legal advocates.
Defense lawyers often claim they are not allowed to make arguments or present evidence on behalf of their clients, and say the multiple-defendant trials allow little in the way of due process for the individuals accused.
The 12 men sentenced to death Wednesday – three of whom were convicted in absentia -- were accused in the killing in September of a police general during a raid by Egyptian authorities to round up suspects in an attack weeks earlier on a police station that left at least 11 officers dead.
The raid, and the police station attack, took place in Kerdasa, a restive town only a few miles from the Pyramids of Giza.
Violence swept Egypt in the wake of last summer’s crackdown by police and soldiers on supporters of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. The mid-July breakup of pro-Morsi protest camps, which left hundreds dead, triggered a round of retaliatory attacks by Islamists against security forces and Coptic Christians, and a new round of raids by security forces in turn.
Eleven others still await a verdict in the Kerdasa case. Death sentences in Egypt can be appealed and also must be ratified by the senior religious authority, the grand mufti.
Egypt’s interim government, succeeded earlier this month by newly elected President Abdel Fattah Sisi, defended mass tribunals as falling within the purview of an independent judiciary.
In March and April, a court in Minya, south of Cairo, attracted worldwide condemnation by decreeing the death penalty for more than 1,200 defendants in two separate trials, also in connection with the death of a single police officer. Some of those sentences were commuted to life in prison upon appeal.
Special correspondent Amro Hassan contributed to this report.
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