The news being circulated, that an Egyptian court ordered the execution of 528 members of the Muslim brotherhood for their political affiliation, is simply unfounded!
While unimaginable that such news, broadcast by all media outlets, as well as international and governmental bodies, could be fabricated, the fact of the matter is that the court ordered the execution of Five (5) defendants who stood trial, and a further 32 thirty two defendants in absentia. They were charged of torching a police station, robbing it, murdering a police officer and mutilating his body at a public hospital. There was, and is, no such verdict ordering the execution of 528 defendants.
In the following paragraphs I have explained the safeguards present in the Egyptian legal and judicial systems when the application of Capital Punishment is called for, and highlighted the due process of such cases.
This is not meant either to defend or to justify the verdict, as the responsibility to explain this lies solely with the court that rendered the judgment through its reasoning. However, my objective is to clarify the Egyptian legal system and the judicial process, in order to inform the reader of the facts, not the fictional news that's currently being circulated.
These are the steps leading to enforcement of Capital Punishment in Egypt:
- The court, following a trial presided over by a council of 3 judges, has to render a unanimous verdict of its three members imposing Capital Punishment. If one of the court’s judges refuses to impose Capital Punishment, it cannot be rendered.
- On reaching a decision to recommend Capital Punishment the court has to refer the case –prior of rendering a verdict- to the Grand Mufti of Egypt (a religious clergyman) to obtain his opinion as to the religious permissibility of imposing the Capital Punishment on the defendants. The Grand Mufti submits his opinion, which is not obligatory for the court.
- The court considers the Grand Mufti's opinion and deliberates the verdict and then reaches a decision; this is then the first verdict of Capital Punishment.
- This first verdict goes to the Attorney General, who then has to refer the case to the Supreme Court, even in the absence of an appeal from the defendants.
- The Supreme Court reviews the first verdict to ensure its conformity with the law and checks for faults in the procedures or neglect of the rights of the defendants. In the majority of Capital Punishment cases, the Supreme Court nullifies the first verdict, and returns the case back to a retrial.
- The retrial is carried out in front of a new court formed with a council of three new judges who then again have to deliver a unanimous decision to impose a sentence of Capital Punishment: this is the second verdict.
- On receipt of the second verdict the Attorney General has to refer the case to the Supreme Court.
- The Supreme Court reviews the verdict to ensure its conformity with the law and checks there is no fault in the procedures or the rights of the defendant.
- If the Supreme Court finds any faults in the procedures or evidence of abuse of the defendants’ rights, the court nullifies the second verdict, and hears the case itself.
- A new trial in front of the Supreme Court is convened and a unanimous decision of the judges (comprising of between 5 to 9 judges) of the courts has to be reached. If any one of them refuses the imposition of Capital Punishment then it cannot be enforced. (the third and final verdict)
- Finally, the President of Egypt has to ratify the verdict, and can also refuse the implementation of Capital Punishment.
These procedures apply to the defendants who stood trial. For the defendants who are tried in absentia, the verdicts rendered against them in absentia are nullified and voided once they appear in front of court, without any need for an appeal process.
In this specific trial the mass media has reported the execution of the 528 defendants before any such verdict was rendered! The court has only issued an administrative decision to refer the case to the Grand Mufti, and this has been reported by the media as a rendered verdict of mass execution, and that is how the readers have perceived it.
More accurately of the 528 defendants, 381 are fugitive, who were tried in absentia, with the verdicts against them being void upon their appearance in front of court. These include 32 thirty two defendants who received a death sentence in absentia. Of the remaining 157 defendants tried, only 5 five of them received the death sentence, while the remaining received either a prison sentence or were acquitted.
The Egyptian Attorney General has already submitted this verdict to the Supreme Court, in order to appeal it in its entirety, outlining faults in the procedures and the application of the law against the defendants and their rights.
It is most likely, that the Supreme Court will nullify the verdict, and order a new re-trial as per the above-mentioned process.
Capital Punishment, while banned in Europe and subject to controversy in states of the USA who apply it, does not raise the same debate in Egypt, where an overwhelming majority believes it is a just punishment for some cases. A few weeks ago there was public outcry against the legal and judicial system in Egypt for not rendering a death sentence for juveniles who where accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering a young child. The court did not render such verdict as Egyptian law forbids the imposition of the death sentence on juveniles under the age of 18 years.
The court that rendered the current verdict is known generally for its harsh sentences against offenders, even those with no ideological or political affiliations with any group, such as sentencing a defendant to 15 years in prison term for sexual harassment.
This court is not representative of all Egyptian courts. For example, in February an Egyptian court acquitted all 61 defendants, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, accused of inciting violence at one of Cairo's main public squares (Ramses), including among them an Al Jazeera news channel member. In March, another court acquitted five leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Essam Al Aryan (speaker of their political arm - The freedom and Justice Party) from inciting violence charges.
In summary, no verdict of mass execution of 528 defendants was ever rendered. The Attorney General identified the 528 defendants as the perpetrators and accomplices of torching a police station, robbing it, murdering a police officer and mutilating his body at a public hospital.
The five (5) defendants, who received the death sentence, shall have at least two further trials in front of at least 13 judges who would have to render a unanimous decision to impose the penalty. For the 32 thirty two defendants who received the death sentence in absentia, the verdict against them will be void on their appearance in front of court. None of the remaining 491 defendants received a death sentence nor be subject to it.
I do believe that the reader has the right to make up his/her mind based on accurate information that provides him/her with the whole picture. I hope in clarifying the Egyptian legal system and the judicial process the reader is better informed of the facts, rather than that which is being reported in the mass media, which seeks sensationalism over the truth.