CAIRO: The leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood defied a death sentence handed down against him yesterday, saying he would keep pursuing his cause, a son of deposed president Mohamed Mursi quoted him as saying.
“If they executed me one thousand times I will not retreat from the right path,” Brotherhood General Guide Mohamed Badie (pictured) was quoted as saying by lawyer Osama Mursi, who attended one of his trials in Cairo. The comments were published on Osama Mursi’s Facebook page. He is the son of Mohamed Mursi.
Reacting to what it called the “chilling” court ruling, the Brotherhood said the world can no longer afford to stay silent. “The Muslim Brotherhood reaffirms it will continue to fight relentlessly for freedom and democracy in Egypt, and continue to use all peaceful means to end military rule and achieve justice for the Egyptian people,” the group’s London office said in an emailed statement.
Badie, considered a conservative hardliner, was charged with crimes including inciting violence that followed the army overthrow of Mursi, who is also on trial on an array of charges.
The slight, 70-year-old veterinary professor stood trial in Cairo in a separate case hours after the sentence was affirmed. Two security officials said Badie appeared relaxed and joked, asking other Brotherhood members to buy him the red outfit that prisoners condemned to death wear.
As word spread of the death sentences, relatives screamed and cried outside the court in the town of Minya. “This is a corrupt government. This is a failed regime. We have no real police. We have no real state,” said Sabah Hassan, whose son was sentenced to death. Others collapsed on the street as soldiers with AK-47 assault rifles standing on an armoured vehicle looked on.
Relatives blamed Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, the general who deposed Mursi. “Sisi is ruling like a king” and “May God punish you for what you did” some people chanted.
Tough measures against the Brotherhood suggest the authorities still see it as a major threat, even though most of its leaders and thousands of members are behind bars. The Brotherhood, believed to have about one million supporters in the nation of 85 million, has vowed to topple the government through protests.
Death sentence recommendations in the case involving Badie will be passed on to Egypt’s Mufti, the highest religious authority. His opinion can be ignored by the court. The rulings can be appealed. Many defendants are on the run.
Mass trials in the biggest Arab state have reinforced fears among human rights groups that the government and anti-Islamist judges are using all levers of power to crush opponents.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director for Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, said: “The decisions are possibly the largest possible death sentences in recent world history. While they’re exceptional in scale, they’re certainly not exceptional in kind. It seems that these sentences are aimed at striking fear and terror into the hearts of those who oppose the interim government.”
In an early reaction from a Western government, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter that the mass trials were an “outrage”. “The world must and will react!”
“In a month, Egypt sentences more people to death than the rest of the world combined. It is not the kind of news to rekindle confidence,” Angus Blair, chairman of business and economic forecasting think-tank Signet, wrote on on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the court in the southern province of Minya also reversed 492 of 529 death sentences it passed in March, commuting most of those to life in prison. Lawyers and rights campaigners said the sentences in the two mass trials resulted from rushed proceedings that infringed basic local and international law.
Mohamed Elmessiry, an Amnesty International researcher who attended the hearings, said: “In each trial, the defence were not able to present their case, the witnesses were not heard, and many of the accused were not brought to the courtroom. This lacks any basic guarantees of a fair trial – not only under international law, but also Egyptian national law. The trials themselves are a death sentence to any remaining credibility and independence of Egypt’s criminal justice system.”
Many of the defendants in both trials say they were not present during the attacks, and some say they are not even supporters of the Brotherhood but were reported to the police by informants acting on personal agendas.
“There is nothing against me – no one has any evidence that I was there on that day,” said Hagag Saber, a 34-year-old government electrician who was one of the 683 sentenced to death for the Adwa killing. Currently at large, he claims he was in Cairo the day the attacks happened. “There is no justice or integrity, nothing based on facts. Everything is based on an illegitimate investigation that took hearsay from people in the street,” Saber said.
His lawyer, Mohamed Abd-El Fatah Ali, showed the Guardian roughly 6,000 pages of court documents from the case and argued that the judge could not have had time to read them.
“There’s no human who could read this amount of newspaper pages, let alone legal documents containing testimonies, in order to find the paragraph that relates to this case and these defendants in the time allowed,” said Ali, who was fined by the judge and referred to court himself for boycotting an earlier session. “That would take three months.”