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Military tribunal sentences 7 to death

A military tribunal has sentenced seven people to death on terrorism-related charges, the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported on Tuesday.

The sentences were referred to Egypt’s Grand Mutfi, and the final ruling in the case was scheduled for September 23.

The defendants were arrested when police raided what they called a “terrorist cell” in Qalyubiya’s Arab Sharkas village in May. Eight people were killed in the raid, including two high-ranking military officers and six civilians identified as terrorists by the Armed Forces.

The operation targeted a militant group implicated in an attack on a checkpoint on the Cairo-Ismailia Road in March, which claimed the lives of six military conscripts.

The group was also linked to the bombing of the Cairo Security directorate in January, in addition to the assassination of Interior Ministry official Mohamed al-Saeed and National Security Agency officer Mohamed Mabrouk.

Security sources claimed they found three tons of homemade bombs and explosive belts during the raid, in addition to other weapons. Some of the explosives detonated during an exchange of gun fire in the course of the raid, resulting in the deaths.

The Arab Sharkas cell has been affiliated with the Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdas, which purportedly released a statement online claiming connections to six of the civilians killed in the raid. The statement was accompanied by a photo of the group, including a young teenager said to be the son of one of the killed members, according to privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) newspaper.

An unprecedented number of death penalties have been meted out in Egypt over the past year, eliciting international outrage. A court ruling sentencing 529 defendants to death in Minya prompted the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to release a statement expressing concern over mass death rulings in trials “rife with procedural irregularities in breach of international human rights law.”

In response, a group of public figures in Egypt, including renowned writer Ahdaf Soueif, human rights lawyers Gamal Eid and Emad Mubarak, writer and director Khaled al-Khamissi and political figure Amr Hamzawy, have launched a campaign against capital punishment. 

The group decries “the apparent deterioration in the justice and legal system in Egypt,” as well as the use of torture to extract confessions in several cases, which is “worrying when it comes to a penalty that cannot be reversed,” their statement said.

Other human rights organizations, including the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, also issued a joint statement expressing fear “of expanding the use of the death penalty in light of the recent escalation of repressive measures against political opposition.”