By Tim Nanns
The mass trial in which 51 alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporters, among them Mohamed Soltan, were charged, was deeply flawed, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) statement on Sunday.
The rights group said that charges against the detainees included the publication of false news or conspiring to overthrow the interim government.
The verdicts by Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata were handed out on 11 April, sentencing 37 of the defendants to life imprisonment and confirming the death penalties on 14 others.
HRW said there was a clear lack of evidence of criminal behaviour as the convictions were based on the testimony of a single police officer. The HRW review said the only “wrongdoing” the convicts committed was they spread news about the mass sit-ins that took place in Rabaa Al-Adaweya Square in 2013, and voiced peaceful opposition to the ouster of Mohamed Morsi.
HRW’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa director Joe Stork accused Egypt of “the politicisation of justice” when the people covering “the mass killings in 2013 could go to prison for life or be executed while the killers walk free”.
Stork believes the trial was not based on evidence or the principals of a free and fair trial but rather “simply another effort by the Egyptian government to silence its opponents”. He added that the trial includes ten journalists and many current or former spokesmen for the Muslim Brotherhood and news outlets belonging to or affiliated with them.
A Muslim Brotherhood spokesperson told Daily News Egypt this shows once more that the prosecution’s accusations were “fabrications”, concerning they were based on the testimony of one police officer and nothing else.
She also described the trial as a result of “political pressure” aimed at thwarting the “just cause of democracy” the protesters had been advocating. She also claimed that the attempt of deceiving the people with the trial was “not working”.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry said, in a statement issued to Daily News Egypt, that all sentences are issued by “fully independent judicial bodies”. The ministry statement emphasised the Court of Cassation was an important body of the judiciary system, and stated that the independence of the judicial system was “among the cornerstones of any successful democratic system”.
The statement went on to call any comments by outside parties on Egyptian courts’ rulings “flagrant interference in the internal affairs of Egypt”. It added that it was likely to be “highly politicised” by aiming “towards certain political objectives, particularly in light of their highly selective nature”. The ministry also said that some of these comments “reflect a lack of knowledge of Egyptian court proceedings”, and the guarantees afforded by the law and the stages of appeal.
The practice of mass trials had been condemned before by NGOs including HRW and others as well as the US and the European Union. The US called for the “immediate release” of Mohamed Soltan soon after the verdicts were handed out.
However, the US was also criticised in the HRW report. The rights group remarked that, even though the White House had condemned the life sentence for its citizen, it continued the shipment of heavy weapons to Egypt because of national security interests. The shipments were halted after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and were intended to continue only if the US administration could certify to Congress that Egypt was making progress on its way to democracy.