Mass Death Sentences Issued At Trial In Egypt

Nearly 200 defendants have been sentenced to death in a mass trial over the killings of 11 police officers during a riot last year. The Egyptian court handed down the sentences to 188 defendants accused of killing the group of officers in August 2013 as part of an attack on a police station in the town of Kardasa. The defendants are also accused of being supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party of the recently deposed president. The 50 defendants tried in absentia will be entitled to a retrial if they appear.

Defense lawyers levied a number of criticisms at the process that saw so many individuals convicted in a matter of moments. The defense lawyers said that more than 100 of the defendants were not permitted lawyers and many defense witnesses were excluded from the courtroom during the proceedings. The defense lawyers also contend that no effort was made during the trial to prove that any individual defendant personally killed any of the officers.

This is the third time this type of mass sentencing has been used this year in Egypt. Smaller groups of Brotherhood members around Egypt have also been handed death sentences, typically in groups of a dozen or two dozen at a time. The mufti, the state’s official Muslim religious authority, will now review the sentences before they are finalized by the court. After the sentences have been finalized, the defendants will have the right to appeal their cases individually.

Critics of the way the courts have operated say that the mass death sentences put the systematic bias of the Egyptian courts on display. A representative of the Human Rights Watch nonprofit group says the cases show how the judiciary is a political tool used by the Egyptian government to prosecute its enemies and free anyone it wants freed. The deposed president, Hosni Mubarak, was accused of overseeing the police shootings of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators, but found the charges against him dismissed earlier this week due to a procedural technicality.

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