On March 24, a judge in Minya province south of Cairo sentenced 529 defendants to death for the killing of a policeman during an attack on a police station by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in August 2013. The new trials also target protesters who had objected to the removal of former President Mohammad Morsi by the Egyptian military in July. Violence ensued when authorities forcibly broke up pro-Morsi demonstrations.
In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed himself to be “deeply, deeply troubled by the sudden and unprecedented decision by an Egyptian court to issue preliminary death sentences for 529 citizens after a quick mass trial.”
Secretary Kerry said the judgment by the court “defied logic,” and he urged appropriate Egyptian authorities to avail themselves of the many avenues of legitimate review to remedy the situation.
“This news,” Mr. Kerry said, “simply does not reflect the values and goals to which the interim government has aspired publicly and privately.”
The need for due process assumes greater urgency with the start of a new trial of 700 people in the same courtroom where the earlier judgment was rendered – in a proceeding in which the defendants were tried as a group rather than on the merits of individual cases, said Mr. Kerry. He noted that many of those defendants were not even in the courtroom, making it “impossible to believe that such a proceeding satisfied even the most basic standards of justice.”
“For three years,” Secretary Kerry said, “Egyptians have demanded responsive leadership that protects human rights and promotes economic opportunity. Many lost their lives in that struggle. Adhering to the new constitution and maintaining a criminal justice system free of intimidation and political retribution are essential functions of a legitimate government.”
He urged the interim Egyptian government “to reverse the court ruling and ensure due process for the accused. Anything less,” said Mr. Kerry, “would dishonor the bravery of all who sacrificed their lives for democratic values.”