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HRW condemns Egyptian death sentences

Egyptian-American Mohamed Soltan is among those sentenced to life (Anadolu)

Date of publication: 13 April, 2015

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Mass death sentences in Egypt, including that of Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Badie, labelled a "sham" by human rights group.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned an Egyptian court's decision on Saturday to uphold 14 death sentences against anti-coup protesters as a "sham".

The death sentences came at the end of the "Rabaa Operations Room Trial", referring to the violent clearing of Rabaa Square in August 2013, during which HRW estimated that at least 817 supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi were killed.

The charges levied against the defendants include funding the sit-in, establishing an operations room for "outlawed" Muslim Brotherhood activities and spreading false information in Egypt.

     HRW described the verdicts as "blatantly unjust" and "politically motivated".

Among those facing potential execution is the prominent Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Badie, who has now been condemned to death four times by the judiciary since 2013.

The Giza Criminal Court also sentenced 37 others to life imprisonment, including Egyptian-American activist Mohamed Soltan, who has spent fourteen months on hunger strike. HRW described the verdicts as "blatantly unjust" and "politically motivated".

"The fact that those who publicized the mass killings of 2013 could go to prison for life while those who did the killings receive official accolades perfectly symbolizes the abject failure of transitional justice in Egypt," Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's executive director for the Middle East and North Africa, told Reuters.

The judge presiding over the case, Mohammed Nagy Shehata, has gained notoriety and condemnations from rights groups in Egypt for sentencing hundreds of people to death during mass trials, including Mohamed Soltan's father, Salah Soltan, last month.

On the eve of Mohamed Soltan's sentencing, Amnesty International published a letter from Soltan's sister to her brother, in which she said, "I've watched your body go from a plump basketball-playing frame to one that has withered down to its bones. Your face, with its beautiful smile often grinning, now looks permanently in pain."

US President Barack Obama had previously expressed concern at Mohamed Soltan's detention, and on Saturday the White House called for his "immediate release" from prison. Soltan's lawyers told Egyptian news outlets today that they plan to appeal at the Court of Cassation, Egypt's highest civilian court, and are hopeful of success.

The verdict comes just weeks after the US released millions of dollars in military aid to Egypt which had been suspended since the ousting of Morsi in 2013. HRW condemned this decision at the time in a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"Resuming assistance without concrete reforms putting an end to these violations would inevitably link the United States to ongoing repression by the military-backed government," the letter said.

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