News / Middle East

Egypt Adjourns Second Mass Trial of Brotherhood Members

In Egypt, Another Day, Another Triali
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Elizabeth Arrott
March 25, 2014 4:57 PM
A leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood went on trial Tuesday, a day after the mass death sentences for more than 500 Brotherhood supporters shocked legal and rights groups around the world. VOA’s Elizabeth Arrott has more from Cairo.

Related video report by VOA's Elizabeth Arrott

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The leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and nearly 700 members of the group went on trial Tuesday on charges including murder and inciting violence.

The trial of Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide during his arrest last year, and the others comes a day after the same court in Minya sentenced 529 Brotherhood members to death.  They had been charged with murdering a police officer, attacking a police station and other acts of violence.

The trial of Badie and the others was adjourned until April 28, when judgment and sentencing is expected, a lawyer said.

Defense lawyers boycotted Tuesday's session of the trial to protest the mass death sentences issued Monday by the same court in the city of Minya.

“We believe the trial's fairness, which is a right enshrined in the criminal code, was absent in this case, and therefore we take this stand, not in favor of any party. We are all aware and in agreement about the crimes committed by the Muslim Brotherhood," lawyer Tarek Fouda, head of Minya's Lawyer's Syndicate said. "However, we must defend the rule of law in Egypt and ensure justice for all.”

That first trial took just two days, drawing international criticism over whether the proceedings were fair. It also unleashed condemnation locally, even from anti-Brotherhood members of Egypt’s judiciary.

Local reaction

In Cairo, where support remains strong for the crackdown against supporters of ousted president and Brotherhood figure Mohamed Morsi, many were pleased with the decision.

“This is good because it is the first time we see our judges act so quickly, because this was the second session," said Amir, a Cairo resident.

But such swift action against Morsi supporters - compared to the dragged out cases of pre-revolutionary officials - left others angry.

“So why hasn’t [former president Hosni] Mubarak been given the death penalty? Cairo resident Hassan Eissa asked.  "Why hasn’t [former interior minister] el-Adly been given the death penalty?"

With the mass trials and harsh sentences handed down to Morsi supporters being called the “revenge” of Egypt’s military-backed leaders, worries of a greater backlash grow.

International criticism

In Geneva Tuesday, a U.N. official said the mass trial could not have met the most basic requirements for a fair proceeding.  Rupert Coville, a spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, criticized the proceeding as "rife with procedural irregularities" and "in breach of international human rights law."   

Saba Mahmoud, associate professor of anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley, told VOA on Tuesday that there is no due process in Egypt, and called the sentencing "ridiculous."

"You can take even perhaps elements from that crowd who may have broken the law and so on, but to actually sentence close to 530 people, 529 to be precise, nowhere can be defended legally," she said. "Most of the people who have been arrested are being tried in military courts and security courts under the emergency law in the country. They’re not being given a fair trial."

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the United States was "deeply concerned" and "pretty shocked" after Monday's decision.

"Obviously the defendants can appeal, but it simply does not seem possible that a fair review of evidence and testimony, consistent with international standards, could be accomplished with over 529 defendants in a two-day trial.  It sort of defies logic."

She said the U.S. has continued to urge Egypt to make sure detainees are given fair proceedings, and that politically motivated judicial actions only serve to reverse Egypt's democratic transition.

Mahmoud told VOA the Egyptian military's violations of civil liberties have not pushed the U.S. government to say such behavior must stop or else it will withdraw aid.

“I think the State Department reaction throughout this process has been completely muted. We must remember that Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. military and socioeconomic aid after Israel in the region," she said. "And the United States has an enormous influence in how Egyptian politics is conducted. Ever since the overthrow of the Morsi government, the writing has been on the wall."

Back story

The charges in the two trials are related to clashes in Minya last August.  That violence erupted after security forces in Cairo broke up two Brotherhood protest camps, leaving hundreds of people dead.

They were protesting the army's ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, a Brotherhood member who has been in custody since he was removed from office in July and is facing several trials himself.

Egypt's interim authorities have cracked down on the Brotherhood, labeling it a terrorist group and arresting many of its leaders.

Elizabeth Arrott contributed to this report from Cairo

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