CAIRO — An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced 75 people to death, including leaders of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, for their involvement in a 2013 sit-in protest in Cairo that spiraled into violence and resulted in the death of hundreds of demonstrators by security forces.
Cairo Criminal Court was considering the case of 739 people facing charges ranging from killing police officers, incitement to violence and damaging property during the 2013 violence in Rabaa al-Adawiya, a square in Cairo. Forty-seven people, including the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, were sentenced to life in prison.
The mass trial has been widely condemned by human rights organizations, with Amnesty International calling it a “grotesque parody of justice.”
Mahmoud Abou Zeid, a photojournalist known as Shawkan who was detained for photographing the antigovernment protests, was sentenced to five years in prison. Because he has been held since his arrest, time served will be counted toward his sentence and he is to be released. He faces five more years of probation, however.
Taher Abu Nasr, Mr. Abou Zeid’s lawyer, said he was dissatisfied with the sentence but acknowledged that it “was expected.” He said he planned to file an appeal.
The August 2013 sit-in was staged by supporters of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, who had been ousted weeks earlier by the military under the command of Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the defense minister. Clashes and gunfire broke out, and at least 817 people were killed when security forces broke up the protests.
Mr. Sisi was sworn in as president less than a year later.
“These sentences were handed down in a disgraceful mass trial of more than 700 people, and we condemn today’s verdict in the strongest terms,” Amnesty International said on Saturday, after the court’s decision.
“That not a single police officer has been brought to account for the killing of at least 900 people in the Rabaa and Nahda protests shows what a mockery of justice this trial was,” it added, referring to Rabaa al-Adawiya and another Cairo square.
Mr. Abou Zeid was arrested with two other journalists, one from France and one from the United States, when he was covering the clashes. The foreign reporters were quickly freed, but Mr. Abou Zeid was charged with weapons possession, illegal assembly, murder and attempted murder.
An independent international jury selected him this year as the laureate of the Unesco/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize, which honors a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to press freedom.
The Egyptian government criticized the decision, with the Foreign Ministry noting that the photojournalist had been accused of “terrorism and criminal offenses.”
“We warn against the politicization of Unesco and its involvement in the implementation of the agenda of certain countries, while drifting away from its cultural mission,” the ministry said in a statement.
Egypt has held a string of mass trials over the past few years that have signaled the judiciary’s energetic support for the government’s crackdown on dissent since the military ouster of Mr. Morsi. The sentences have often been overturned during the appeals process.
In March 2014, 529 people were sentenced to death in the Egyptian town of Matay over the killing of a police officer, a sign of the acceleration of a crackdown against Islamist supporters of Mr. Morsi. In April 2014, a court in Minya, a provincial capital, sentenced to death more than 680 people over the killing of one police officer. Those cases were successfully appealed.
In December that year, a court in Giza issued a death sentence to 188 people charged in the killing of 11 police officers during an attack on a police station in the town of Kardasa in August 2013. While the case was appealed, the death sentence of nearly two dozen people was upheld.
Those who had hoped that Mr. Sisi’s victory in the presidential election in March this year — he won 97 percent of votes, running virtually unopposed — would lead to a softening of the crackdown on dissent have expressed disappointment.
The crackdown has recently extended beyond Islamist figures. Last month, the Egyptian prosecutor general ordered the detention of Masoum Marzouk, a former diplomat and war veteran, for 15 days pending an investigation into his call for a referendum on Mr. Sisi’s government.
This month, the president ratified a law regulating social media accounts, officially to crack down on misinformation, and providing for the punishment of journalists who spread false information.
The law places social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers under the supervision of the top media authority, which can block them. Critics say the law intends to silence the news media and opposition groups.
Source : Nytimes