Following a ruling sentencing 529 defendants to death in Minya on Monday, political voices from across the spectrum took to social media to either rebuke or laud the decision.
The defendants faced charges of storming and burning the Matay police station in Minya, killing a police officer and attempting to kill two others, stealing weapons and releasing inmates.
The violence is alleged to have occurred in the aftermath of the dispersals of two sit-ins calling for the reinstatement of former Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi, ousted three months earlier.
The Minya Criminal Court is due to issue the final verdict on April 28, following ratification from Egypt’s Grand Mufti, which is required in all death sentences.
In some instances, the ruling has prompted foreign governments to speak out.
“We are deeply concerned — and, I would say, actually pretty shocked — by the sentencing to death of 529 Egyptians related to the death of one policeman,” said on Monday Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the US State Department.
The Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that Harf questioned whether the defendants could have received a trial in accordance with international norms.
“Obviously the defendants can appeal, but it simply does not seem possible that a fair review of evidence and testimony consistent with international standards could be accomplished with over 529 defendants in a two-day trial,” Harf said. "It sort of defies logic."
The privately owned newspaper Al-Shorouk reported on Foreign Ministry spokesperson Badr Abdel Aty’s interview with BBC radio on the matter, in which he asserted that Egypt’s judiciary is fully independent.
“The separation of powers is one of the fundamental principles of any modern democracy, so I cannot comment on the verdict,” he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood said the ruling was “shocking and unprecedented.” In a statement released by the group’s London press office, the verdict was described as “inhumane and a clear violation of all norms of humane and legal justice.”
The Brotherhood pointed to the verdict as “yet another clear indication that the corrupt judiciary is being utilized by the coup commanders,” in the statement.
Hamza Zawbaa, media spokesperson for the Freedom and Justice Party, often described as the Brotherhood’s political wing, said that this sentencing signaled a new stage in the revolution.
“The sentencing to death of revolutionaries,” he wrote on his Twitter account, “means that the revolution has entered a new stage and new methods. Its end will be unexpected and unprecedented.”
Local media featured a number of figures lauding or criticizing the ruling.
Former MP Mohamed Abu Hamed wrote on his Twitter account that harsh punishments are necessary as “a lesson and a deterrent to other terrorists,” the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) reported.
The same newspaper also reported the criticisms of prominent journalist Hussein Abdul Ghani, who wrote on his Twitter account, “In the Nuremberg trial of Nazi crimes in World War II, which caused the deaths of 50 million people, the death sentence was passed on none of the defendants except 12, and executed in only six of those cases.”
Mahmoud Badr of the grassroots Tamarod (Rebel) campaign wrote on his Facebook page calling on those not happy with the verdict “to look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves if this sentencing had been against Mubarak and 528 supporters of his regime, if there would have been the same reaction.”
The leadership of Tamarod, which spearheaded the last year’s protest movement calling for Morsi’s ouster, has been largely supportive of the road map led by the military-backed government since the Islamist president's removal from office.
Several of the defendants were not present during the trial. One of the men tried in absentia phoned the satellite Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr television channel, both AMAY and Al-Shorouk reported. The man, who did not give his name, said that he had not seen a lawyer and not even been summoned by the prosecution.
Osama Metwally, director of security in Minya, said that security measures have been taken in the governorate in anticipation of any acts of violence. Al-Shorouk reported that in a phone call to a talk show on the private satellite channel CBC Xtra, “We expect that there will be reactions to this ruling, and we will deal with them firmly.”
AMAY detailed three previous “famous” rulings issued by the same judge, Saeed Yousef, over the past year. In one, he sentenced a woman to 30 years in prison for robbing clothing stores while carrying a light weapon, while in another, he sentenced a man to 15 years for sexual harassment (though this was later reduced to 10).
The third ruling was an acquittal. He found a group of defendants innocent of the killing of protesters during the January 25 revolution in the governorate of Beni Suef.
The defendants were the former director of security in Beni Suef, three of his aides and seven local officers.