Eight Ikhwanul Muslimeen leaders sentenced to death in Egypt on charges of conspiracy to topple government

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By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI– An Egyptian court has sentenced to death by hanging eight members of the outlawed Ikhwanul Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) group, including its former supreme guide Mohammed Badie, on charges of hatching a conspiracy to topple the government and taking part in the violence of 2013 following the military’s ouster of the then President Mohammed Morsi.

Badie was the eighth Supreme Guide of Muslim Brotherhood, who led the group between 2010 and 2013. His successor Mahmoud Ezzat, who became the Brotherhood’s acting general guide in 2013 until his arrest in 2020, was also sentenced to death.

The other men sentenced to death were members of the Guidance Bureau of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political party backed by the Muslim Brotherhood whose candidate Mohammed Morsi became Egypt’s President in 2012 after widespread protests led to the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak and democratic elections. Morsi died in prison in 2019.

The others sentenced to death were FJP secretary-general Mohamed El Beltagy; Osama Yassin, a Minister under Morsi; the pro-Morsi preacher Safwat Hegazy; the former MP Amr Zaki; and Bureau members Essam Abdel Majed and Muhamad Abdel Maqsoud. All of them were charged in a high-profile case after they organised a massive sit-in in Cairo’s Rabaa Al Adaweya Square in protest against the removal of Morsi from power.

After six weeks of protest, the Egyptian military dispersed the protest and hundreds of people were killed in the military action. The eight persons were sentenced on various charges of conspiring to topple the government of the current President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and, of plotting to sow discord and national disunity by holding the sit-in. They were accused of sustaining the protest to prevent the country’s authorities and its Constitution from governing.

The Supreme State Security Court, headed by Judge Mohamed El-Saeed El-Sharbini, issued the verdict to execute the eight persons after a three-year-long mass trial involving 79 defendants. However, they will have a right to appeal against the judgment.

In the same case, 37 other defendants were sentenced to life in prison, six were sentenced to 15 years of hard labour, and 21 were acquitted of all charges. The state security agencies under El-Sisi, who came to power in 2013 after Morsi was ousted, have implemented an intense crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood. Hundreds of people have been arrested since 2013 and the rights groups have denounced the execution of prisoners.

Egyptian Network for Human Rights Director Ahmed Attar said the verdicts were politically motivated and the defendants had faced serious legal violations, including arbitrary detention, torture and denial of legal representation, in contravention of the Constitution and due process of law.

“The Supreme State Security Court is an exceptional court which does not adhere to fair trial standards. It is based on emergency laws, and its judgments, once endorsed by the military ruler, are final without the possibility of appeal,” Attar said.

Badie’s 38-year-old son Ammar and Beltagy’s 17-year-old daughter Asma were among hundreds of protesters killed by security forces in the months following the July 2013 coup led by then Defence Minister El-Sisi. The case is titled “The Manassa Events” in reference to the Manassa Memorial massacre, in which 95 anti-El-Sisi protesters were killed on July 27, 2013. No police officer has been prosecuted for the killings, despite multiple reports by rights groups suggesting that the killings happened because of a disproportionate use of force.

Muslim Brotherhood members have led a media campaign against El-Sisi’s government from abroad. On the other hand, El-Sisi has often publicly blamed the Brotherhood and its foreign partners for intentionally inciting disorder in Egypt in an attempt to topple his government and return to power.

The Manassa trial saw 79 people charged with a range of crimes, including leadership in a terrorist group, preventing state institutions and public authorities from performing their duties, and attempting to change the regime by force. The defendants were additionally accused of committing crimes of murder and attempted murder for terrorist purposes, possessing firearms and ammunition without a licence, thuggery, blocking roads, displaying force to intimidate citizens, and deliberately sabotaging public and private properties and setting fires intentionally in public and governmental facilities.

The government of El-Sisi has overseen a ferocious crackdown on members and supporters of Muslim Brotherhood over the past decade. Morsi was a leading member of the Brotherhood. Hundreds of his supporters were killed by security forces during protests in 2013 opposing El-Sisi’s coup, and many of those who survived were detained and prosecuted on terrorism charges.

The crackdown included mass arbitrary detentions and subsequent mass trials over alleged political violence. Courts have handed down hundreds of death sentences since El-Sisi became President in 2014. Rights groups have denounced these trials as flawed and have called on the authorities to commute the death sentences.

The Human Rights Watch had earlier called for quashing other death sentences connected to several mass trials of opposition leaders, most of them affiliated with the Brotherhood. Egypt was the top issuer of the death penalty in 2021, according to Amnesty International. It was also the second worst executioner after China that same year, a report by the rights group said.

Egyptian jails hold an estimated 65,000 political prisoners, arrested for their opposition to the government of El-Sisi, according to a report by the Arabic Network for Human Rights in March 2021.

Hundreds of people have perished in prison since El-Sisi’s coup due to medical negligence. The deceased included Morsi and former MP Essam El-Erian.

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