Tears, anger and joy over Egypt death sentences

An Egyptian man reacts outside a courtroom on in Egypt's southern province of Minya after the court confirmed death sentences for 183 Islamists. (Mohamed Elshahed, AFP)

An Egyptian man reacts outside a courtroom on in Egypt's southern province of Minya after the court confirmed death sentences for 183 Islamists. (Mohamed Elshahed, AFP)

Reda Ramadan didn’t get a chance to celebrate the acquittal of his nephew after he learned his brother was among 183 defendants whose death sentences were confirmed in Egypt on Saturday. 

“Our family is devastated. The acquittal means nothing when there is a death sentence” at the same time, a grieving Ramadan told AFP as he left the courtroom. 

The court in the central city of Minya confirmed death sentences against 183 defendants, including the chief of Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie. It also commuted the death sentences of four people to life in prison and acquitted 496 others. 

In April, the court presided over by judge Said Youssef Sabry initially ruled that all 683 alleged Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi be sentenced to death. 

The 183 whose sentences were confirmed had been convicted of involvement in the murder of two policemen and the attempted murder of five others in Minya province on August 14, the day police killed hundreds of supporters of Morsi in Cairo clashes. They were also found guilty of vandalism, attacking public property, bearing arms and joining illegal organisations. 

Outside the court, some relatives expressed joy on learning loved ones had been acquitted, while others wept after hearing theirs would be sent to the gallows. 

“Allahu Akbar! Long live justice!” chanted those happy at acquittals. “Allah revealed the truth. Allah acquitted my brother,” said one man. 

A short distance away, there was anger and tears after people heard their relatives were to be executed. 

Farmer Ahmed (40) said his brother, a father of four and also a farmer, had been given the death sentence. “I swear that my brother has nothing to do with politics and the Muslim Brotherhood.
He does not even pray,” Ahmed said. 

“We hate the Brotherhood in the first place,” said another of Ahmed’s relatives, of the Islamist movement to which Morsi belongs. Ahmed said his brother was arrested at his home in October, and said the family was shocked to find out that he was among those charged with attacking a police station last August 14. 

Just metres away, a jubilant Mona Abdel Sattar described the acquittal of her son Soltan al-Yamani (16) as a second birth. “God has given me a new life,” she said, showing a picture of her son who suffers from tuberculosis. “Two months ago I feared I would lose my eldest son, but now I will finally hold him in my arms.” 

Lawyers say Yamani’s case was unique since under Egyptian law the death sentence cannot apply to a minor. He was accused of involvement in the attack on the police station and killing two policemen. The initial death sentence against all of the defendants had been referred to the grand mufti, Egypt’s top Islamist scholar. 

Rights activists have repeatedly said the Egyptian judiciary was using the death penalty as a tool to crush supporters of Morsi. Since the military ousted the Islamist last July, more than 1 400 of his supporters have been killed in a police crackdown, while upwards of 15 000 have been jailed. 

Also outside the court on Saturday was a young Christian man, Wafiq Refaat, who was waiting to discover the fate of his brother Yasser. He said his brother had been accused of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been blacklisted as a “terrorist organisation”. 

“We’re Christians. We supported Morsi’s ouster and endorsed (President Abdel Fattah al-) Sisi, and despite all this my brother was sentenced to death for being a Muslim Brotherhood member,” he said. “We are living a nightmare and there’s no way out. If the investigation was fair, it would have revealed my brother’s innocence.” 

Just minutes later, their lawyer said Yasser’s death sentence had been confirmed. – Sapa-AFP

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