CAIRO, EGYPT — An Egyptian court confirmed death sentences for 183 people Saturday, in a case involving rioting last August in the town of Minya, south of Cairo. Convictions against 496 others were thrown out, while four were given life sentences. Lawyers for those condemned to death say that they will appeal.
The ruling by Judge Saeed Youssef drew the ire of many human rights activists, as well as criticism from the four corners of the globe. Despite the 183 death sentences, it was not clear who, if anyone, would actually be put to death.
The case drew international media attention because many of the sentences appeared to be arbitrary. Just one police officer died in the clashes around which the trial revolved. Mohamed Badie, the Supreme Guide of Egypt's now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, had his death sentence confirmed for inciting the crowd to violence.
Attorneys for those condemned say that they plan to appeal, and many death sentences in Egypt historically have ultimately been commuted. In a landmark case involving onetime Muslim Brotherhood leader Hassan Hodeibi, a death sentence was commuted to life in prison. Hodeibi was eventually released.
Relatives of those condemned screamed and wailed Saturday near the courthouse, after learning of the judge's decision to uphold 183 of the death sentences. Relatives of the close to 500 other men who were acquitted, however, appeared to be relieved.
One man outside the courthouse said that he was not surprised by the verdict, since “the trial was entirely a political matter.” Another appeared to be pleased by the verdict, insisting that “justice was carried out.”
Al-Arabiya TV reported that a heavy police and army escort surrounded Judge Youssef as he left the courthouse. A report in a Cairo newspaper several weeks ago indicated that the judge was being “shunned” by his neighbors and that the town council had cut power to his house.
Publisher Hisham Kassem said that Judge Youssef had brought ridicule to Egypt with his unfair and arbitrary rulings and that he should be removed from the case.
"Due process was not observed during any of these trials where mass death sentences were shelled out and it's continuing," said Kassem. "Now, obviously there is something seriously wrong. This is not a minor error or so. Death sentences do not come en masse. So, it is time that there is an administrative intervention from the ministry of justice to put an end to this. It is becoming an international farce."
The original trial, in which 683 people were sentenced to death simultaneously, took place in April. The initial sentences were given to Egypt's Grand Mufti, its top Muslim religious leader, for final review. Saturday's verdict was handed down with the Mufti's approval.