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US ‘deeply concerned’ by death sentence for Egypt’s Morsi

Hamas also speaks out against ruling which includes death sentences for 70 Palestinians among 120 people in total, including ousted leader; four killed in Sinai

Egypt's deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi raises his hands from behind the defendant's cage as the judge reads out his verdict sentencing him and more than 100 other defendants to death, at the police academy in Cairo on May 16, 2015. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)
Egypt's deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi raises his hands from behind the defendant's cage as the judge reads out his verdict sentencing him and more than 100 other defendants to death, at the police academy in Cairo on May 16, 2015. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)

The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi’s death sentence Sunday, joining a growing list of countries and international groups who have condemned Saturday’s court decision to execute the former leader.

Judge Shaaban el-Shami sentence Morsi and over 100 others to death over a mass prison break during the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and later brought Islamists to power for the first time in Egypt.

Before a death penalty decision can be finalized against Morsi or the over 100 other defendants included in El-Shami’s decision, however, the case must be reviewed by Grand Mufti of Egypt Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam, according to Egyptian law.

Though the decision is not yet final, the ruling has drawn a chorus of international condemnation, joining Washington, Hamas and a host of others in opposition to the execution.

“We are deeply concerned by yet another mass death sentence handed down by an Egyptian court to more than 100 defendants, including former President Morsi,” a State Department official told Reuters Saturday.

“We have consistently spoken out against the practice of mass trials and sentences, which are conducted in a manner that is inconsistent with Egypt‘s international obligations and the rule of law,” a State Department official told AFP.

Noting that they were preliminary sentences, the official added: “We continue to stress the need for due process and individualized judicial processes for all Egyptians in the interests of justice.”

The ruling applies to 120 people in total, including 70 Palestinians, and is the latest in a series of mass death sentences handed down since the military overthrew Morsi nearly two years ago. The sentence will likely further polarize Egypt, a longtime US ally grappling with an Islamist insurgency that has intensified since Morsi’s overthrow.

In what appears to be the first violent response to the ruling, suspected Islamic militants gunned down three judges and their driver in the northern Sinai Peninsula city of al-Arish, according to security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Egypt’s judiciary has come under mounting international criticism since Morsi’s ouster as it has handed down harsh mass sentences to Islamists and jailed secular activists for protesting. At the same time, the courts have acquitted or handed light sentences to top officials who served under President Hosni Mubarak, whose nearly 30-year reign was ended by the 2011 Arab Spring-inspired uprising.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the sentencing to death of the Palestinians, most of whom were tried in abstentia, was “regrettable” and “shocking,” adding that “some of those convicted were killed before the Egyptian revolution and others are serving prison terms in Israel.” But he said nothing about Morsi’s death sentence specifically.

Prosecutors have alleged in the case that armed members of the Palestinian Hamas group entered Egypt during an 18-day uprising in 2011 through illegal tunnels running under Gaza’s border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Taking advantage of the uprising’s turmoil, the militants fought their way into several prisons, releasing Morsi, more than 30 other Brotherhood leaders and some 20,000 inmates, prosecutors said. Several prison guards were killed and parts of the stormed prisons were damaged.

Hezbollah and Hamas operatives who had been convicted and sentenced to jail terms over terror-related charges were also sprung out of jail in 2011.

Amnesty International also denounced the verdicts, saying “the death penalty has become the favorite tool for the Egyptian authorities to purge the political opposition.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s government was returning to the “old Egypt” by rolling back democracy. He also criticized the West, saying it had failed to speak out against such death sentences.

Turkey’s government strongly supports the Muslim Brotherhood. Relations between Egypt and Turkey soured after Morsi’s ouster by Sissi.

A verdict on Morsi’s role in that case will be announced in the June 2 hearing.

Even if confirmed by the mufti, Saturday’s death sentences still can be appealed.

AFP contributed to this report

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