Amnesty Int'l: Egypt's death sentences 'grotesque'

UNITED NATIONS/LONDON - Egyptian courts have made a grotesque ruling in sentencing hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members to death, the head of the New York office of Amnesty International, the global human rights monitoring group said Wednesday.  

“Amnesty International does not believe that the death penalty should be applied for any crime or activity,” Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International chief in New York, told The Anadolu Agency.

Hours before Amnesty International was due to publish its annual report of global death penalty statistics, to be released Thursday night, Diaz said the Egyptian government should quash the death penalty sentences.  

“Of course we can't force the Egyptian courts to reverse the judgment,” he said. “But we can continue to call on them to respect due process and fair trial standards without imposing the death penalty.”

Diaz said there are legal imbalances in Egypt and a culture of impunity. He also questioned the effectiveness of the death penalty.

 “We don't believe the death penalty is effective in preventing the crimes for which it is imposed, and this is confirmed by much of the research,” he said.   

The conviction and sentencing to death of more than 500 people in one swoop demonstrated the determination of the military rulers in Egypt to silence voices of opposition, according to the president of the Muslim Association of Britain, Dr. Omer El-Hamdoon.

- Pressure Cairo

 Amnesty International is calling on communities around the world and international institutions “to put pressure on Egypt to respect human rights,” Diaz said.

The human rights organization will continue to monitor domestic events in Egypt to keep other nations informed about abuses, he said.

In its report, Amnesty International will outline trends in the use of the death penalty during 2013, including the number of executions per country.

The Egyptian court’s ruling was the largest number of simultaneous death sentences handed down in recent years, not just in Egypt but across the world, said Amnesty International's campaigner for Egypt, Nicholas Piachaud.

"A single court handed down more death sentences in one day than most countries do in a year," Piachaud said.

The imposition of the death sentences, as well as some of the trial procedures in Egypt were described as “alarming” by Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, at his daily press briefing on Tuesday.

“We’re also following and monitoring how the trial procedures work and we may say something further on this in due course,” Haq said.  

Piachaud said at one point the judge ordered armed guards to surround the defense lawyers after they protested his refusal to give them access to important documents.

Stressing that the international community should condemn the verdict, Piachaud said a muted response would only embolden the authorities to commit further human rights violations.

 ‘’It would send a signal that governments are prepared to stay silent while the Egyptian authorities trample on the rule of law," Piachaud said.  

But Haq refused to say if there had been any contact between the United Nations and authorities in Egypt beyond the statements the UN has issued.

- UN role

 “You can be sure that the Secretary-General has been concerned about this and that we’ve tried to do what we can, in terms of our influence, to bring about a successful resolution of this issue,” Haq said.

 “I don't know what else the UN Secretary-General is doing but the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that the mass imposition of the death penalty, after a trial rife with procedural irregularities, is in breach of international human rights law,” Diaz told AA. “I hope the UN Secretary General raises the issues.”

He stressed that Amnesty International would continue to help local authorities and civil society everywhere as they work to bring about moratoriums on, or the abolition of, the death penalty.

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