Egypt court sentences 683 to death, rights groups up in arms

The Egyptian court sentenced Mohamed Badie and 682 supporters to death and handed down a final capital punishment ruling for 37 others, judicial sources said on Monday — a decision that may lead to increased tensions in Egypt, which has been gripped by turmoil since the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi by the military last year. Egypt’s army-backed government has launched a witch hunt against the Muslim Brotherhood since Morsi’s ouster. Thousands of the groups’ members and sympathizers have been arrested.

The death sentence decision in the case involving Badie and the 683 supporters will be passed on to the Egyptian mufti, the highest religious authority, despite the fact that the opinion of the mufti is not legally binding and can be ignored by the court. Under Egyptian law, death sentences are referred to the top Islamic scholar for an advisory opinion before being carried out.

The biggest number of death sentences in Egypt’s modern history has raised fears among human rights groups, who have not only urged the Egyptian authorities to withdraw the court’s death penalty decision, but have also called on the international community to end its silence and take steps to prevent the executions from taking place.

“There is no way to approve of such a totally inhumane decision. No one’s right to live should be based on the decision of someone or any authority. Murder is a crime and whoever commits a crime should pay for it. A death penalty under the orders of the government in particular is completely a crime,” Human Rights Association (İHD) Secretary-General Selma Gungor said in remarks to Today’s Zaman on Monday.

Gungor also underlined that the İHD has sent a letter to the Egyptian authorities through the Turkish Embassy in Cairo over the execution rulings, calling for the withdrawal of the execution decision.

“We pointed to the Sept. 12, 1980 military coup in Turkey, when many were executed by a court decision. We said those who executed people will be put on trial for committing a crime,” said Gungor.

During the Sept. 12 coup, 517 people were sentenced to death, mostly for political reasons, while 7,000 people faced charges that carried a sentence of capital punishment. Of those who received the death penalty, 50 were executed. As a result of unsanitary and inhumane living conditions and torture in prisons, almost 200 people died while in custody.

In a ruling widely condemned as arbitrary, an Egyptian court last month convicted 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Morsi was a leading figure, and sentenced them to death for the murder of one policeman and an attack on others in one of the largest mass trials in the country in decades.

The 37 death sentences were part of a final judgment on the 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters who were sentenced to death on March 24. The remaining defendants were sentenced to life in prison.

Criticizing the court for its decision, Dr. Metin Bakkalcı, secretary-general of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV), said death sentences are unacceptable in any country in the world, not just Egypt. “This is unbelievable! This is the extermination of humanity. Voices should be raised against an arbitrary decision that leads to the ending of a human life. There cannot be any excuse for the government to decide on the execution of people. We are very concerned over this decision,” Bakkalcı said to Today’s Zaman.

The Egyptian court’s death penalty ruling has triggered criticism from governments and human rights groups around the world but there has been no significant international reaction to it.

This month, political parties in the Turkish Parliament drafted a joint declaration against the Egyptian court’s decision after opposition parties criticized the silence of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). Many AK party officials have close relations with members of Morsi’s moderate Islamist party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

The move came after squabbles between the AK Party and opposition parties over the issue. The AK Party started drafting a joint declaration that would represent all the parties in Parliament, after the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) alleged that the ruling party hadn’t expressed support for the CHP’s proposal to issue a joint declaration from Parliament.

When the Egyptian court decided to execute 529 Muslim Brotherhood members, rallies protesting the decision took place in numerous Turkish cities. Protesters across the country wore shrouds to demonstrate against the ruling. Demonstrators held banners condemning the Egyptian court’s decision and symbolic gallows were even set up in city centers.