Due Process Standards Called into Question
WASHINGTON, DC – The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy expresses its profound concern today over the mass sentencing of 529 individuals to death by an Egyptian court following a brief trial process. The trial itself, in which 545 people faced charges of killing one police officer, attempting to kill two others, and taking part in an attack on a police station following the August 2013 dispersal of the Raba’a and Nahda protest camps, concluded after only two sessions.
Although the sentences must be confirmed by Egypt’s Grand Mufti and remain open to appeal, they call into question the Egyptian judicial system’s adherence to due process of law. Defense attorneys have indicated that they were neither allowed access to evidence nor permitted to present a defense in court. Sixteen defendants were acquitted, though it is unclear on what grounds.
The sentences stand in stark contrast to those handed down to members of the security sector who have faced trial for killing civilians. Most recently, one police officer received a ten-year prison sentence for killing 37 prisoners detained in a police transport van in August 2013; three other officers received suspended one-year sentences for their role in the killings. In the most recent death sentence case, 21 defendants were given the death penalty for their involvement in the deaths of at least 71 people in the 2012 Port Said football stadium riot. Notably, none of those sentenced to death in this case are members of the security sector.
Many of those convicted, described as Muslim Brotherhood supporters, were tried in absentia; only 147 defendants appeared in court. The conclusion of the summary trial process, where defendants were given no chance to mount a defense, may well be overturned—Nasser Amin, a member of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights, suggested that the judgment “will be overturned as soon as the defendants demand a retrial.”
Regardless of the potential for retrial or reduction in sentence, today’s mass death sentence reflects the imbalanced and arbitrary nature of the judicial system in Egypt today. Claims by government officials that Egypt’s judicial system is independent are difficult to reconcile with ongoing trial irregularities and violations of due process.
TIMEP calls upon the Egyptian government to convene a new trial that comports with internationally-accepted standards of due process, including the right of defendants to present a defense. In calling for a new trial, TIMEP does not seek to minimize any of the crimes associated with this case. These crimes would in fact be better addressed through a fair trial process that does not call into question the impartiality of the judicial system.
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of democratic transitions in the Middle East through analysis, advocacy, and action.