Egypt: Head of the Press Office of the Justice Ministry Responds to Reactions Against Sentencing to Death 529 Defendants

Commenting on reactions by foreign quarters regarding a Meniya criminal court decision referring death sentences against 529 defendants, implicated in acts of sabotage, to the Mufti of the Republic for his opinion, head of the press office of the Ministry of Justice Counselor Abdel Azim el-Ashry explained the following facts:

1- One of the basic principles of any democratic system is that of separation among authorities and confirming the independence of the judiciary together with non-interference by the executive authority in the activities of the judicial authority. These principles do not categorically allow commenting on judicial rulings by any inside or outside party whomsoever given the fact that such comment undermines the independence of the judiciary.

2- The defendants whose sentences were referred to the Mufti of the Republic for confirmation have been tried before an ordinary court and before a natural judge and not at a summary court.

3- The court judge has issued a decision, not a verdict, after listening to eyewitnesses, and urged taking the opinion of the Mufti of the Republic for confirming the death sentence. The opinion of the Mufti is not mandatory and that when the case papers are referred back to court the judge has the right to uphold his decision or change it.

4- All defendants have the right, in case a death or lifetime imprisonment sentence is issued, to appeal the verdict before the court of cassation. Also, the public prosecution has the right to challenge the ruling even if it was not appealed at the court of cassation. The court of cassation has the right either to reverse the ruling or send it back to another court for looking into the case from the very beginning or uphold it. Even in case the new court would uphold the death sentence, the defendants could, for the second time, appeal the ruling and in this case the court of cassation will take over settling the case.

5- Most of those sentenced to death (more than 350 in number) have been tried in absentia and therefore if they would show up in court they have the right to talk to the court panel and the jury must listen to them and would make up a new opinion. This means looking into the case from the very beginning and starting new litigation procedures before the same court.

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