Hundreds of people’s lives were sent to their end this past year by a judge known for his black sunglasses, and even more so for his harsh verdicts.
Behind Egypt’s latest mass sentence is Judge Nagy Shehata.
Despite being on the list of judges responsible for forging the 2005 parliamentary elections in favour of the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), Shehata was given responsibility heading one of six special judiciary circuits dedicated to terrorism and violent crimes formed in December 2013.
The judge is currently presiding over five high-profile cases.
“Nagy Shehata is famous for his rivalry to the revolution, which he constantly declares,” said Amr Imam, a lawyer with the Hesham Mubarak Law Center.
Shehata sentenced Wednesday revolutionary activist Ahmed Douma and 229 other defendants to life imprisonment and fined them in total EGP 17m. As part of the same cabinet clashes case, 39 minors received 10-year prison sentences.
Demonstrators organised a sit-in in December 2011 at the cabinet headquarters, which the military forces attempted to disperse, resulting in four days of deadly violence. Douma was allegedly one of the sit-in’s organisers, although he said that he was not present in the area when the violence started.
“The ruling was extremely harsh,” said the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights chairman and senior member of state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights Hafez Abu Seada.
For clapping after the ruling, Shehata handed Douma three more years in prison.
For asking whether Shehata has a Facebook account during a previous session in December, Douma got yet another three years hard labour and an EGP 10,000 fine. The judge had been cursing and mocking the Muslim Brotherhood and political activists on the purported Facebook account, which was later closed.
“The country needs deterrent provisions to reach stability,” Shehata told Al-Watan newspaper.
“These declarations indicate that the judiciary is now manipulated by the state,” said Imam, who is on Douma’s defence team. Shehata, in this sense, issues provisions for the sake of stability, not justice, the lawyer said.
Yet, the State Information Service (SIS) emphasised Friday that the defendants are being tried before an “ordinary” court and in front of a “normal judge”.
Douma’s defence team had previously requested the case’s referral to another court due to the rivalry between Shehata and Douma “for being an icon of the revolution”, which the court refused, Imam stated.
The judge rejected several demands made by the defence team throughout the trial sessions. The court did not allow the defence to bring forth the witnesses, nor did he allow including the incorporation of copies of documents to the case file. These include investigations by military prosecution, and investigations into the killing and injuring of protesters during the cabinet clashes. The court did not display videos used as evidence against the defendants, or allow the defence lawyers to view them.
The rejections triggered a lawyers syndicate’s statement, that the court and its head dominated the defence’s rights after the court “terrorised” the lawyers and forced them away from their clients’ fundamental demands.
“The court’s unresponsiveness to the defence’s requests is a violation of the defence’s rights,” said Abu Seada.
A heated debate between defence lawyer Khalid Ali and Shehata took place in November, when Ali accused Shehata of having a predetermined position against his clients. At this point, Shehata stormed out of the courtroom while the lawyer was still pleading his case. After the session, Shehata referred Ali to prosecution for investigation.
The defence had also requested Douma’s hospitalisation for his deteriorating health, but Shehata turned it down.
Another detainee’s life falls in the hands of Shehata. Egyptian-American Mohamed Soltan has been on hunger strike for over a year after being arrested from his home when security forces came to arrest his father, a prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader, but could not find him.
Shehata refused to look into a letter from human rights organisations calling for the release of Mohamed Soltan on grounds of ill health, calling it “interference with the judiciary”.
Ignoring the health records is an infringement, said defence lawyer Halim Henish, who said: “Shehata should be the first to care for the life of the accused.”
Soltan was transferred to intensive care three times, entered a sugar-induced coma, and has had two strokes during his detention. He is one of 52 defendants charged with “forming an operations room to direct the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group to defy the government during the Rabaa [Al-Adaweya] sit-in dispersal and to spread chaos in the country”, according to a statement released by the prosecutor general’s office on 3 February, 2014.
As his health continues to crumble, Shehata continues to stretch the case proceedings with Soltan behind bars.
“Shehata must release Soltan, even if conditionally with travel bans,” Abu Seada believes
One of the “Operations Room” trial sessions witnessed Shehata referring defence lawyer and activist Ragia Omran to prosecution for going outside the courtroom to answer a phone call. She was later found not guilty of disrupting the trial. The incident was not the first time Shehata had requested Omran’s referral to prosecution for disrupting a court session.
Death sentences and Al Jazeera trial
Judge Shehata made it into a damning Human Rights Watch statement titled “Egypt: Judge Issues Mass Death Sentences” in December. This occurred after he handed down 188 death sentences on accusations of the killing of 11 policemen in an attack on Kerdasa’s police station in August 2013.
Shehata was also behind the sentencing of three Al Jazeera English journalists to seven years in jail, with an extra three for the Egyptian defendant for possession of a bullet casing.
In June 2013, Shehata handed the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, along with 13 other high- and low-ranked leaders, a death sentence. It was based on the testimony of one national security officer that Brotherhood members are responsible for the shootings that took place near Istiqamah Mosque in Giza Governorate.
When the Grand Mufti rejected the provision, Shehata did not give in. On 30 August, he sentenced eight of the accused to life imprisonment and, in absentia, six to execution.
Shehata orders death sentences without legal basis, said Imam. Not only is there a lack of evidence for conviction, but the death sentences are ordered from special circuits for terrorism formed on command from the government. “This on its own demolishes the principle of a fair trial” for having a predetermined judgement, Imam stated.
Abu Seada regards the death sentences as an exaggeration, and said that such incorrect rulings should be overturned by the appeals court.
Sehata told Al-Watan that he is a supporter of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who a number Egyptians regard as an anti-revolutionary military ruler.
As a judge, it is illegal for him to voice such a preference, according to Imam. “He is a clear example for the politicised judge. The whole judiciary is politicised.”
“I do not have trust in the judiciary or the prosecution. Egypt irreversibly lost justice,” voiced Imam.