Ten supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were simultaneously sentenced to death on Saturday in the latest mass capital verdict by an Egyptian criminal court -- a judicial practice that has drawn increasing international criticism.
Human rights groups, Western governments and legal advocacy organizations say due process is difficult or impossible to achieve when many defendants are put on trial at once, and they have expressed particular concern about cases involving the death penalty.
Meanwhile, in a separate case, the 10-year prison sentence handed down to a high-ranking police official convicted in connection with the suffocation deaths of 37 suspects in custody last summer was overturned Saturday by an appeals court, according to the official Egyptian news agency.
The case has been closely watched by rights groups as representing at least a symbolic effort to hold law enforcement officials accountable for maltreatment and torture of detainees.
The 37 men who died were being transported in a barred police van in scorching temperatures after being arrested amid protests in support of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. Police, who later claimed the men were trying to escape, hurled tear gas canisters into the crowded vehicle, causing an agonizing struggle for oxygen by those inside.
The 10 Islamists who were sentenced to death in absentia on Saturday were convicted of offenses including inciting violence. Thirty-eight others who were on trial with them, among them the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, are due for sentencing next month, state media reported.
Saturday’s sentences were to be reviewed by the grand mufti, the country’s senior Islamic authority.
Mass tribunals have become much more common in the 11 months that the interim government has been in power. Egyptian authorities have defended the practice of simultaneously trying dozens or hundreds of defendants at once, saying that any interference would compromise the independence of the judiciary.
In a pair of notorious cases this spring, a criminal court in Minya, south of Cairo, sentenced a total of more than 1,100 defendants to death. Some of those sentences were later overturned, but hundreds were upheld.
Egypt’s courts have emerged as a prime enforcer of repressive new measures enacted by the current government, which was installed after Morsi was ousted by the military last July. The country’s new president, former defense chief Abdel Fattah Sisi, is to be sworn in Sunday, and has suggested that he will continue to take a hard line against political dissent.
Sisi received more than 95% of the vote in last month’s presidential election. International monitoring groups raised few objections to the conduct of the balloting itself, but cited a troublingly undemocratic climate due to curtailment of basic citizens rights and a sweeping crackdown on opponents of the government.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
June 7, 8:07 a.m.: This post has been updated to include an Egyptian court's decision to overturn a 10-year prison sentence in the case of a high-ranking police official.