Crackdown continues in Egypt with imposition of death sentences

Hopes dashed after release of Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste


Any international relief at Egypt’s release and deportation of Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste on Sunday evaporated yesterday with the death sentences imposed by a Cairo court against 183 supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. They had been charged with killing 18 police officers in August 2013 during riots in the aftermath of the army’s coup against Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.

Greste’s release from trumped up charges that included helping “a terrorist group” by broadcasting lies that harmed national security, had raised hopes that the authorities might also free two co-accused, Canadian-Egyptian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian national Baher Mohamed. There are also at least nine other journalists in jail as part of the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and Irish national Ibrahim Halawa.

The release was under a law allowing deportation of foreign nationals to their home states, ostensibly to face trial or serve sentences there. The release a day ahead of the death sentences – also on the flimsiest of evidence – serves mainly to illustrate the lottery-like quality of Egyptian justice and of the crackdown by the authorities against the Muslim Brotherhood. It has now also been accused of the killings last week of 30 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai that have been claimed by Islamic State’s Egypt wing.

Last year three mass trials saw 529, 683 and 183 defendants respectively condemned to death. In most of the cases a defence lawyer said that there was no effort to prove that any individual defendant personally killed any of the officers; that most were not allowed to have lawyers; and that scores of defence witnesses and the press were excluded from the courtroom. The courts have also handed down a long series of death sentences to smaller groups of Brotherhood members around Egypt; a dozen or so at a time. Most of the death sentences are likely to be lifted on appeal but the accused and thousands of other Muslim Brotherhood supporters face the prospect of long jail terms on dubious of charges.