A short Stuff.co.nz appeared yesterday evening, with the alarming headline, “Egypt sentences 529 to death“. The full text is as follows (as I say, it’s only short):
A court in southern Egypt has convicted 529 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, sentencing them to death on charges of murdering a policeman and attacking police.
The court in Minya issued its ruling on Monday after only two sessions in which the defendants’ lawyers complained they had no chance to present their case.
Those convicted are part of a group of 545 defendants on trial for the killing of a police officer, attempted killing of two others, attacking a police station and other acts of violence.
More than 150 suspects stood trial, the others were tried in absentia. Sixteen were acquitted.
The defendants were arrested after violent demonstrations that were a backlash for the police crackdown in August on pro-Mursi sit-ins in Cairo that killed hundreds of people.
That’s not justice. Justice does not involve short, mass trials of 545 people. Justice does not involve trying people in absentia. And it certainly doesn’t involve sentencing people to death in absentia. In a murder trial, defendants’ lawyers should not be complaining they weren’t given a chance to present their clients’ cases before their clients were sentenced to death.
When people are sentenced to death by the state, and the state dispensed with the basic tenants of justice in order to get the result it wanted, then to my mind that’s murder.
Interestingly, the story doesn’t appear to have yet appeared in the NZ Herald, the World News section of which seems too jam-packed with stories about a missing aircraft to bother covering what appears to be a horrifying breach of human rights in Egypt.
The Herald have this afternoon managed to source a story from the UK’s Daily Telegraph, and the details emerging are even more alarming:
At the first hearing of the case on Saturday, the judge, Said Youssef, rejected a request by the defence for a postponement to allow the large number of papers involved to be scrutinised, the lawyers said.
Only some of the defendants were in court, with others kept in police cells for the hearing. About 400 are not even in custody, having not been arrested or having gone on the run.
At the hearing yesterday, security blockaded the entrance to the court to prevent anyone, including the lawyers, from entering.
“We were not allowed to attend,” one lawyer, Ahmed Shabeeb, said. “The verdict was a personal reaction, a stubborn response to lawyers who applied to remove the judge from the case. The sentence violated all legal rules.”
So most of those who were tried in absentia hadn’t even been arrested yet? Let alone had the chance to face their accusers and mount a defence?