Death of justice

Death of justice

An Egyptian court’s awarding of the death sentence to hundreds of alleged Muslim Brotherhood activists has triggered a tidal wave of outrage world-wide. Death sentences are indefensible and unconscionable always, more so when they are awarded en masse and come at the end of flawed trials. This was the case in Egypt.

The death sentences came in two waves; the first on March 24, when a court presided by Judge Sayed Youssef sentenced 529 people to death for killing a policeman in Matay. Then on April 28, the same court, while affirming the death sentence to 39 of them, commuted it to life imprisonment for the rest.

And then it went on to deliver another shocker. It sentenced to death 683 people, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohammed Baddie, for inciting violence and attacking a police station in Atwa in which a policeman was killed. The attacks on the police station took place on August 14 last year, when security forces launched a brutal crackdown on Islamists protesting the ouster of president Mohammed Morsi. It appears that many of the defendants did not participate in the violence.

The mass death sentences are reprehensible because the so-called trials that preceded them were a farce. Many defendants were ‘tried’ in absentia. They were not given a chance to defend themselves and the trial was over in less than an hour. Clearly, judge Youssef’s mind was made up even before the trials began. Obviously, his political inclinations and prejudices determined his verdict.

Even if the death sentences were not the outcome of court-military collaboration, it underscores yet again the grip of Mubarak-era appointees over Egypt’s institutions. These officials are not just opposed to Islamists but being pro-military, they are anti-democrats as well. This is evident from the court’s recent ban on the ‘April 6 movement’, a pro-democracy group that played a major role in the mass uprising that ousted dictator, Hosni Mubarak, in 2011.

Egypt’s rulers are going too far in their hounding of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have banned it, arrested around 16,000 members, including its top leaders and killed countless others. Should the death sentences be carried out, it will be evident that the government is keen to not just suppress the Brotherhood but to wipe it out. However, its plans could boomerang. It could swell public sympathy for the Brotherhood.