Egypt’s highest civilian court on Monday upheld death sentences for 12 Muslim Brotherhood members, concluding a trial linked to a 2013 mass killing by security forces at a sit-in, according to judicial sources.
The ruling, which cannot be appealed against, means the 12 men could face execution pending approval by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. They include Abdul Rahman Al-Bar, commonly described as the group’s mufti or top religious scholar, Mohamed El-Beltagi, a former member of parliament, and Osama Yassin, a former minister.
Many Muslim Brotherhood figures have been sentenced to death in other cases related to the unrest that followed the military’s removal of Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, but the Court of Cassation ordered retrials.
Following Morsi’s removal in July 2013 amid mass protests against his rule, his Muslim Brotherhood supporters staged a huge sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in eastern Cairo to demand his return.
The following month, security forces raided the square and killed some 800 people in a single day.
Authorities said at the time that protesters were armed and the forced dispersal was a vital “counterterrorism” measure.
It marked the start of a long crackdown against opposition in Egypt.
Those condemned to death on Monday were convicted of “arming criminal gangs which attacked residents and resisted policemen as well as possessing firearms … ammunition… and bomb-making material”, the court of cassation said in its ruling.
Other charges include “killing policemen… resisting authorities… and occupation and destruction of public property”, it added.
The court also reduced sentences for 31 other Brotherhood members, an official told AFP news agency.
In 2018, an Egyptian court sentenced 75 defendants in the trial to death and the rest to varying jail sentences, including 10 years for Morsi’s son Osama.
Civilians condemned to death in Egypt are executed by hanging.
‘One of largest killings’
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, calls for Islam to be at the heart of public life.
It established itself as the main opposition movement in Egypt despite decades of repression, and has inspired spinoff movements and political parties across the Muslim world.
But it remains banned in several countries including Egypt for its alleged links to “terrorism”.
Morsi was elected following Egypt’s 2011 mass protests and removal of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, but was toppled by the army led by now-President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Sisi’s government outlawed the Brotherhood in late 2013 and has overseen a wide-ranging crackdown, jailing thousands of its supporters.
Morsi, who had been sentenced to death for his role in jailbreaks during the uprising against Mubarak, died in June 2019 after fainting in court.
Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said the death sentences “cast a shadow over the country’s entire justice system”.
“These ruthless death sentences, which were handed down in 2018 after a grossly unfair mass trial, are a stain on the reputation of Egypt’s highest appeals court and cast a dark shadow over the country’s entire justice system,” he said in a statement.
Egypt has become the world’s third most frequent executioner, Luther said, adding that at least 51 men and women have been executed in 2021 so far.
He said Egyptian authorities must establish an official “moratorium on executions”.
“Those protesters convicted of committing violent crimes should be retried in fair and impartial trials without recourse to the death penalty,” Luther added.
Khalil al-Anani, a political science professor at the Doha Institute who wrote a book on the Brotherhood, said on Twitter the verdict was part of the government’s “continued political revenge … against its political opponents”.
Human Rights Watch has labelled the violent dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in a “massacre” and one of “the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history”.
No Egyptian official has been tried over the killings.
In April, Egypt executed at least nine people over the 2013 storming of a police station in which 13 policemen were killed.
Amnesty International has lambasted a “significant spike” in recorded executions in Egypt, from 32 in 2019 to 107 last year.
“Egyptian authorities have displayed a ruthless determination to persist with their escalating use of the death penalty,” the rights group said in April.