International outcry continues from Minya court mass death sentences

On Monday, Judge Saeed Youssef sentenced 683 pro-Morsy defendants, including Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Leader Mohamed Badie to death, referring the verdict to the grand Mufti, a senior Islamic scholar, for his rubber stamp of approval.
“The capital punishment today is shocking, but since the defendants did not have the right to have legal defense, the verdict will be appealed,” said Hafez Abou Saeeda, chief of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.  
The same judge had sentenced another 529 defendants to death on March 24 in an unprecedented verdict that triggered an international outcry and stirred questions about the fairness and independence of the judiciary branch of government in Egypt.
At the same hearing, the Minya court reinforced the death penalty of 37 defendants. The death sentence issued to the other 492 was reduced to 15 to 25 years in jail.
The defendants were accused of killing a police officer and rioting in Minya, following the bloody dispersal of two sit-ins in Cairo and Giza last August when Morsy supporters protested against the military overthrow of Morsy on 3 July.
Judge Youssef gained his nickname as “The Butcher” for such harsh verdicts since has took charge in 2012 of the Minya court.
Lawyer Mohamed El-Zanaty who has worked extensively in Youssef’s courtrooms told US-based Daily Beast that Youssef once sentenced a man to 40 years in jail for merely possessing a gun. 
“He gave him 15 years for the weapon, 15 years for the bullets and 10 years for getting into the gunfight,” he Zanaty said.
Meanwhile, despite his harsh verdicts against Morsy supporters, he acquitted a high-ranking officer and 10 other policemen accused of killing protesters during the revolution on 28 January 2011, which was dubbed as the “Friday of Rage,” one of the bloodiest days of the 18-day uprising that led to Mubarak ouster.
Western governments warn against harsh sentence
As they did to the last mass death sentence, the United States and the European Union reacted harshly to the verdict. 
In a statement, the Obama Administration expressed its concern over the verdict saying it “defies even the most basic standards of international justice.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty International labeled the verdict “grotesque” and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that “verdicts that clearly appear not to meet basic fair trial standards, particularly those which impose the death penalty, are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability.”
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his concern over the verdict during a meeting with his counterpart Nabil Fahmy in Washington. Kerry said that Egypt is remarkably experiencing a “very difficult transitional process” in the few weeks leading up to presidential election on 26 May. Despite Egypt's constitution was “a positive step forward,” but Kerry said the two mass capital punishment is clearly a disturbing escalation.
“Yet even as these positive steps have been taken we all know there have been disturbing decisions within the judicial process, the court system, that have raised serious challenges for all of us,” Kerry said. 
Fahmy seemingly tried to tame criticism, saying that that he is “confident that when due process is allowed, and that the legal system will ultimately end up with the proper decision in each of these cases. We will build a democracy based on the rule of law.”
Fahmy’s visit complemented an earlier visit made by intelligence chief Gen. Mohamed Farid el-Tohamy which was fruitful in convincing the Obama Administration to authorize the previously delayed delivery of ten Apache attack helicopters aimed at US contribution in counterterrorism operations in Sinai.
Yet, after the second mass trial, the congress seemed reluctant and has been reconsidering its full support of Egypt’s political trajectory since last July, especially as the US public opinion and the international community pressures Washington to take serious steps in response to the unprecedented verdict.
On Tuesday, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Chairman of the panel that oversees foreign aid, called the administration’s intended release of $650 million worth of military aid “unconscionable” in light of latest waves of capital punishment.
After signing Camp David peace Accords with Israel in 1978, the United States began to provide Egypt with a package of aid amounting $1.5 billion yearly. However, following the military-led break-up of two pro-Morsy sit-ins in mid-August which left over 600 killed and thousands wounded in one day, the aid was frozen until the US government could be convinced the new interim govement was heading on the democractic path.
Last week, the Obama Administration partially lifted a six-month freeze on some $1.5 billion in mostly military aid to Egypt, who has been a key regional ally to US.
“I'm not prepared to sign off on the delivery of additional aid for the Egyptian military. I'm not prepared to do that until we see convincing evidence the government is committed to the rule of law,” Leahy said in a senate hearing on Tuesday.
Interim government tightens its grip
Mohamed Badie, the 70-year-old leader of the banned group, is the highest-ranking figure in the Muslim Brotherhood to have recently received the death penalty.
If the verdict is upheld by the appeals court, he would be the second senior leader to be executed in the history of the decades-long Islamist group; the first was Sayyed Qotb who was hanged in 1966 by President Nasser who also launched a wide-scale crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood members in 1960s.
Qotb is considered a martyr by the Islamic group and some analysts believe that his death was a catalyst for some offshoot groups to slip into militant radicalism that later on translated into terrorist acts locally and internationally. 
Lawyer Osama Morsy, son of the ousted president, quoted Badie as saying that “if they executed me one thousand times, I will not retreat from the right path.” 
The heavy-handed crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood affiliates that even extended to secular groups that helped in the ouster of Mubarak provoked more radical Islamists to escalate their attacks against police and army soldiers.
In another case, a Cairo court has banned the activities of the liberal but anti-military April 6 Movement, which was a main opposition group against the rule of the last two toppled presidents. The ruling on Monday came a few months after putting three of its leading members in jail over charges of protesting illegally and “damaging the image of the state.” 
However the death sentences have been pronounced but some human rights experts are suspicious that such large scale would be carried out especially with the local and international pressure on the government.
Taha Abdul-Moneim, a revolutionary who participated in the demonstrations led to both Mubarak and Morsy ousters believe that such death sentences are only meant to scare any opposition to revolt against Sisi government, given the trial will be appealed.

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