After a mass two-day trial, a judge in the Minya criminal court sentenced 529 people to death for crimes related to violence against the Matay police station and the death of its deputy police chief, Colonel Mustafa Ragab.
The defendants face charges including the murder of a police officer and attempt to kill two others, vandalism, seizing weapons, unlawful public gathering, and belonging to an illegal organization. The last charge is in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated as an unlawful organization in December 2013, four months after the incident took place.
The scale of these death sentences is unique and unparalleled; furthermore, it sets a dangerous precedent in Egypt’s application of law.
The proceedings violated a range of Egypt’s international human rights obligations with respect to a fair trial, in particular articles 6 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and articles 4 and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The trial proceedings also violated several provisions of Egypt’s new constitution, including articles 95, 96, and 98. According to civil society and news reports, the procedural irregularities included the absence of most of the defendants from the trial, the defense lawyers’ denied access to the court, the lack of witnesses called to stand, the lack of relevant evidence presented that implicates any individual defendant, and the potential application of an ex post facto law.
In an instant, the Minya criminal court has revealed itself to be nothing more than a kangaroo court. Five hundred people have been sentenced to slaughter. The Grand Mufti must annul this judgment immediately.
On April 28, the Grand Mufti will decide whether the death sentences will be confirmed, as per Egyptian law. That same day, the Minya criminal court will render the verdict in another mass trial against 683 people, including the Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, for similar charges in connection with an attack on a separate police station.
Additionally, two other trials have been ordered for 919 suspected Muslim Brotherhood supporters for charges that include murder for some of the accused.
In contrast, those responsible for the use of excessive force used during the sit-in dispersals on August 14, 2013, when over 600 people died, have not been prosecuted. In addition, only four police officers have been convicted for the deaths of 37 detainees, who died of asphyxiation while being transported to a prison on August 18. One of the police officers was given a 10-year sentence while the other three were given one-year suspended sentences.
This implementation of mass trials is being targeted at perceived critics and opponents of the government, and speaks to a larger, worrying trend of the backsliding of the rule of law in Egypt.
The court system is overwhelmed with a backlog of cases due to the vast number of arrests. Many of those arrested are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, but the detained also include secular activists and journalists. According to senior interior ministry officials, 16,000 people have been arrested in recent months.
The use of mass trials does not bode well for the thousands of others who await their day in court. Dissidents from various affiliations and journalists have been rounded up in droves since last summer. With so many in prison, it begs the question of whether Egypt is truly moving forward in a democratic and inclusive manner.