Egyptian Court Deals Out Death Sentences To Nearly 200

An Egyptian court has confirmed death sentences for 183 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, including its spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie. For more on the sentencing, and the charges of violence on which they were convicted, Melissa Block speaks with Ziad Abdel Tawab, the deputy director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

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From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Melissa Block. In Cairo today several subway stations were hit with bomb blasts stirring the morning rush hour, injuring a handful of people. Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the blast but they follow a wave of violence carried out by Islamist militants since the ouster of former president, Mohamed Morsi, last summer. Vowing a crackdown on terrorism, Egyptian security forces have killed hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and arrested thousands more. And over the weekend and Egyptian court confirmed death sentences for 183 supporters, including the leader of the Islamist movement, Mohamed Badie. Joining us to talk about this latest sentencing is d Ziad Abdel Tawab, he is deputy director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. And he's here in Washington this week, thanks for coming in.

ZIAD ABDEL TAWAB: Thank you Melissa.

BLOCK: And you were in Cairo for the sentencing on Saturday. What can you tell us about the process and these more than 180 people whose death sentences were upheld?

TAWAB: Unfortunately the Egyptian judiciary lately has been issuing several mass death sentences. So we're talking about a courtroom full of defendants and the judge sitting in the courtrooms and doesn't listen to the defense of the defendants but listen a little bit to what the prosecutor has to say and then issue hundreds of death sentences. The problem is that none of the defendants have had the right to actually defendant themselves. The lawyers were not given the right to do that. Basically it sounded more like a politically motivated trial rather than a real legal trial that you'd see in any civilized country.

BLOCK: We did see that nearly 500 defendants were in fact acquitted and I read that their family members celebrated outside the court, chanting, the army and the people are one hand, long live Justice, Long live Sisi, referring to Egypts new president, the former head of the armed forces. Were you disappointed in that reaction? Would you have expected those relatives to support their fellow defendants who were sentenced to death?

TAWAB: Some of the people who were actually in this trial, including some of the people have been sentenced to death have nothing to do with the Muslim Brotherhood, they were taking in mass and sentence in mass. So there are some of the defendants were actually very disappointed because they have been cheering Sisi since the beginning but they were taken from the streets without due process. And as such, some of them were acquitted and of course they were happy to be equated, everybody would be happy to escape death row; however the question is, how many others between the hundreds who have been sentenced to death are actually innocent.

BLOCK: So you're saying that Sisi supporters were swept up along with the opponents?

TAWAB: Supporters, non-Sisi supporters, people who are just normally walking in the street, it's literally a police state, where if anyone would defy the police with a look would get arrested.

BLOCK: We've just seen these mass death sentences, we just saw the harsh sentences handed down to the Al-Jazeera journalists, we also just saw the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledging that the U.S. would restore $650 million in U.S. Aid to Egypt's military. He seems to be convinced that President Sisi is committed to as he put it, re-evaluating human rights legislation and the judicial process. Do you share that same confidence and what would you have the United States do?

TAWAB: The U.S. has been claiming all the time that providing Egypt with military assistance, including money to buy military equipments but also helicopters is necessary to guarantee national security. What the U.S. is getting wrong is that actually national security in Egypt is being undermined because of the Democratic practices in this country. We actually fear that ISIS will find a place...

BLOCK: ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

TAWAB: That we actually fear that ISIS would breed more and more in such an environment because instead of having the U.S. being able to participate democratically in the political process in Egypt, you're pushing them to radicalization. You cannot express your opinion freely, you cannot run for elections, you cannot associate and you cannot assemble. And if you do that we will sentence you to death or 15 years in prison, which is the same sentence that you get if you hold an arm and shoot a police officer. So if you want change just take the arm and shoot at the police officer. This is exactly what the U.S. is breeding by this assistance.

BLOCK: Mr. Abdel Tawab, thanks for coming in.

TAWAB: Thank you Melissa.

BLOCK: That's Ziad Abdel Tawab, he's deputy director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

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