President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi called the Egyptian judiciary the vanguard against “plots” targeting Egypt, in a speech on Saturday commemorating Judiciary Day at the High Court.
Amid ongoing contentions that the Egyptian judiciary has been politicised by the executive branch, Al-Sisi asserted their mutual independence.
“Judiciary independence is the main pillar of the 2014 Constitution. Since taking office, I have ensured the maintenance of its independence. Judicial independence is a main tenet of my rule,” Al-Sisi said during his speech.
Despite Al-Sisi’s claims, the Egyptian judiciary has issued mass sentences wherein it ordered the death of thousands perceived to be political opponents of the current government. These verdicts sparked major backlash and raised questions over the judiciary’s independence, in particular among rights activists, lawyers and organisations.
The mass trials have mainly targeted members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government designated as a “terrorist organisation” in 2013, shortly after the overthrow of former president Mohamed Morsi.
In a move to argue that the judicial crackdown on opponents is not linked to a government directive, Al-Sisi stated that Egypt suffers from internal and external attempts to “disrupt progress” to which Egyptian courts are responding.
According to Human Rights Watch reports, the Egyptian judiciary has often issued single verdicts sentencing between 24 and 494 persons at a time since 2013. Defendants faced various charges ranging from murder to illegal protest. The judiciary has sentenced hundreds to death or life in prison, according to the reports.
In its report issued in December 2014, the organisation highlighted the death sentences issued by Judge Nagy Shehata, who is notorious for his harsh sentences.
That year, Shehata handed down death sentences against 188 defendants for participating in an August 2013 attack on a police station in the Giza governorate, which came to be known as the “Kerdasa Massacre”.
The report also tackled several similar sentences prior to that case, such as when a judge in Minya sentenced a total of 1,212 people to death in March and April in two trials arising from other attacks on police stations in 2013. The attacks left at least two police officers dead. After receiving the Grand Mufti’s opinion, the judge approved 220 of those death sentences. The judge sentenced 495 other defendants to life in prison.
In March 2015, 435 alleged Morsi supporters received death sentences and appealed their case to the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest appeals court.