Two recent court sentences have aroused a lot of controversy not only in Egypt but also worldwide.
On Monday, the criminal court of South Minya sentenced to death 683 of the supporters of overthrown Islamist president Muhammad Mursi, including the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brothers (MB) Muhammad Badie, for committing and inciting violence in Minya, Upper Egypt.
The final sentence will be passed on 21 June. According to Egyptian law, a death penalty is not final until it is ratified by Egypt’s grand mufti—a mufti is one authorised to issue fatwa, an Islamic legal edict.
The 683 MB are accused of killing and attempted killing of police officers during the MB attacks against the police in Minya in August 2013, which the Islamists waged in retaliation against the breakup by the police of the five-week-long violent Islamists’ sit-ins in Cairo.
The sentence against the MB Supreme Guide is the harshest yet passed on any of the leaders of the MB who are currently being tried in more than 150 cases since the overthrow of Mursi last July.
Ali Zein al-Abideen, Professor of Criminal Law at the Police Academy, explains that the death ‘sentence’ is in fact only a recommendation of a death penalty. According to Egyptian law, the grand mufti should approve that recommendation after confirming that the offence is punishable by death according to Islamic sharia (Islamic law). Once the sentence is approved, it may be appealed in front of the court of cassation which either upholds it or orders a fresh trial. Zein al-Abideen also points out that most of the Minya defendants were sentenced in absentia. Legally, defendants tried in absentia are handed the harshest sentence. Once they get arrested or turn themselves in, the sentence no longer stands and the court orders a retrial. The sentence passed in absentia is a comminatory one, meaning it is a threat of punishment.
In March, a similar case was heard by the same judge Said Youssef who referred the death sentence of 529 MB supporters to the grand mufti. The mufti recommended that only those who actively participated in the crime may be sentenced to death, and recommended that 82 of the defendants had committed offences that warranted the death penalty. But Judge Youssef issued the final sentence on Monday, confirming the death penalty for 37 of the defendants and reducing it to life imprisonment (25 years) for the others.
6 April movement banned
Also on Monday, the Court of Urgent Matters issued a ruling to ban the activities of the 6 April Movement and confiscate its headquarters on charges of espionage and defamation of the Egyptian State.
The legal reasoning behind the ruling declared that the members of the 6 April movement had received foreign funding, which placed in doubt their loyalty to Egypt, and had committed actions which led to bloodshed. These actions included break-in and destruction of the national security apparatus headquarters in 2011, the exploitation of classified information for personal purposes, and the manipulation of the media to create anarchy in Egypt and to call upon the US to cut off its aid to Egypt. When court rulings were issued against leaders of the movement, 6 April members organised massive protests against what they claimed to be a violation of human rights and freedoms. The court said that these protests aimed at terrorising Egyptians, and saw in them a form of conspiracy with foreign forces; and a threat to national security, the tourism sector, and the economy in general.
The documents presented in court included photographs of a member of 6 April burning the Egyptian flag and photos of other members wearing military-like uniforms and carrying guns. But the key evidence used in the trial were extracts of the Egyptian TV show, al-Sundouq al-Aswad (the Black Box) in which the host Abdel-Rehim Ali leaked recordings of phone calls by members of the movement conspiring against the security apparatus and other State institutions.
According to the law governing NGO licensing and activity, it is prohibited for any organisation formed of more than 10 members to establish military-like groups or engage in secret activity or in activity that would be considered a threat to national unity or that would call for discrimination. The court said the activities carried out by the 6 April movement threaten national security and peace, as well as the safety and security of Egyptians through the chaos and bloodshed they led to. To protect Egypt from such perils, the court ruled to ban all activity of the 6 April movement and to confiscate its headquarters and any other organisations established or funded by the banned movement.
30 April 2014
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