Egypt’s judiciary is rife with judges who are sharp opponents of Islamists, and they are operating amid a media frenzy demanding swift and harsh verdicts against the Muslim Brotherhood.
The result, judicial experts say, is this week’s stunning verdict sentencing hundreds of suspected Islamists to death after a cursory mass trial, a decision likely to be overturned but clearly intended to send a deterrent message.
“The judge is a citizen who lives in a society and can feel the nation’s pulse and knows that people are looking for quick trials,” Rifaat el-Sayed, the former head of Cairo’s appeal court, one of the country’s major courts, told The Associated Press. “If there is a mistake from a judge, there are means to correct it.”
The rulings Monday by a criminal court in the provincial capital of Minya brought heavy international criticism from the U.N., United States and European Union. Amnesty International called the verdicts “grotesque,” and Egyptian rights groups were stunned. The court delivered the sweeping sentences against more than 520 defendants after only one session hearing testimony — without hearing the defense’s case.
But the verdicts were hailed as a triumph for justice by much of Egypt’s media, which have been cheerleaders for the crackdown on the Brotherhood since the military’s July ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.
“Let them be 10,000, 20,000 (sentenced to death),” presenter Ahmed Moussa declared on private Sada al-Balad TV. “Those who have killed, we shouldn’t be upset about them. Why are you upset, Mr. Rights Activist? Where were you when martyrs were killed? Dragged on the floor? … What do you expect from the judiciary? To give salute to terrorism? Or are you supporting terrorism?”
On Tuesday, the same Minya judge opened a second mass trial of 683 suspected Islamists on similar charges — murder and attempted murder in connection to an August attack on a police station. After one day of hearing witnesses — with defense lawyers boycotting the proceedings — the judge declared he would rule in the next hearing, on April 28.
The sentences, however, raised a red flag even within the judiciary, where many said they were certain the verdicts will be overturned because of irregularities in the trial. One current judge on a high-level court called it “an individual case” of a judge aiming to show “his political allegiance” and “send a particular message. He knows it will be annulled.” The judge spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because judiciary rules bar him from discussing another court’s case.
“But the manner and the way the session was managed has continued…