An Egyptian court Monday confirmed death sentences against 183 men convicted of killing 13 policemen, in a verdict the European Union denounced as a violation of the country’s human rights obligations.
The verdict came as another court announced that deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi would stand trial on February 15 in an espionage case — the fourth trial he is facing.
The policemen were killed in an attack on a police station in Kerdasa, a town on the outskirts of Cairo, on August 14, 2013.
The attack took place on the same day that security forces killed hundreds of demonstrators in clashes as they dismantled two massive protest camps in Cairo supporting Morsi.
The court had in December issued a preliminary verdict against 188 defendants in a mass trial, of whom two were acquitted on Monday while one, a minor, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Two more were already deceased.
Monday’s verdict, which can be appealed, came after the initial sentences were sent to the grand mufti, the government’s official interpreter of Islamic law, for ratification.
Since the army deposed Morsi on July 3, 2013, at least 1,400 people have been killed in a police crackdown on protests, mostly Islamists supporting the ousted leader.
Hundreds of his supporters have been sentenced to death in swift mass trials which the United Nations says were “unprecedented in recent history”.
“Today’s decision of a court in Egypt to sentence 183 defendants to death following a mass trial is in violation of Egypt’s international human rights obligations,” the EU’s foreign service said in a statement, reiterating the bloc’s categoric opposition to capital punishment.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was “deeply concerned” by the decision.
“It simply seems impossible that a fair review of evidence and testimony could be achieved through mass trials,” she said.
Rights group Amnesty International said the decision was “outrageous” and “an example of the bias of the Egyptian criminal justice system”.
“Issuing mass death sentences whenever the case involves the killing of police officers now appears to be near-routine policy, regardless of facts and with no attempt to establish individual responsibility,” said Amnesty’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
– Fourth trial for Morsi –
Rights groups and critics of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who ousted Morsi, say authorities are using the judiciary as an arm to repress any form of dissent, including from secular activists.
Morsi and several top leaders of his blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood are in custody and facing several trials on charges punishable by death.
Egypt’s first freely elected president is already facing three trials. The fourth will open on February 15 for allegedly leaking “classified documents” to Qatar and the Doha-based Al-Jazeera network.
Last week an Egyptian court set May 16 for a verdict in another espionage case in which Morsi and 35 others are accused of allegedly conspiring with foreign powers, including Iran, to destabilise Egypt.
Separately, another court is to deliver a verdict on April 21 in the trial of Morsi and 14 others for inciting the killing of protesters in clashes outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
He is also on trial over a jailbreak and attacks on police stations during the 2011 uprising that ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Also on Monday, an appeals court ordered a retrial in a case involving the murder of a police officer during a firefight with Islamists in Kerdasa in September 2013 when security forces stormed the town to flush out Islamists who had taken control of it.
In August 2014, a lower court had confirmed death sentences on 12 of the 23 defendants tried on charges of killing Major General Nabil Faraj.
The court said seven of those sentenced to death, and who are in custody, will be retried along with four of those who were given life. The other convicted men are fugitives.