The Giza Criminal Court upheld the death sentences levied in March against Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and 13 others on Saturday. The judiciary has now sentenced Badie to death three times.
Presiding Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata also sentenced 37 people to life in prison in the same case, including Mohamed Soltan. The high-profile Egyptian-American detainee has been on hunger strike since January 2014 in protest against his detention, to the severe detriment of his health. Soltan is the son of prominent Brotherhood leader Salah Soltan, who was among the 14 whose death sentences were upheld on Saturday. Mohamed was arrested on August 25, 2013 along with several friends when the police raided his home in search of his father.
The defendants were tried on charges of establishing an operations room to instruct Brotherhood members to confront the authorities and spread chaos after the deadly dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya and Nahda Square sit-ins in August 2013, in what became known as the “Rabea operations room” case. They were also accused of providing monetary support to Rabea al-Adaweya protests and the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as disseminating false information to destabilize Egypt.
As of Saturday afternoon, it was unclear precisely which charges each defendant had been found guilty of. The court said it would release that information at a later date.
The Cairo Criminal Court issued death sentences for Badie and 13 others on March 16, but the others implicated in the case were not sentenced until Saturday. Shehata has gained notoriety over the past year for issuing a bevy of mass death sentences and other punitive verdicts in what some have decried as politicized cases.
The defense team plans to appeal the verdict before the Court of Cassation, lawyer Halim Heneish told Mada Masr on Saturday afternoon.
Heneish is confident the ruling will be overturned. “Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata’s rulings since he was assigned to the terrorism sector have clearly been legally flawed,” he argued.
Shehata “issues the same sentence whether the defendants are present or in absentia. He issues the death penalty and life imprisonment for charges that do not merit these sentences. The charges against Mohamed Soltan are punishable by 15 years in prison at most, not life,” according to Heneish.
The Court of Cassation recently overturned Shehata’s punitive sentencing of three Al Jazeera English staff members tried on terrorism-related charges, Heneish pointed out, and enforced a more lenient sentence, which leads him to believe the same route could be taken in this case.
It is currently unclear if Soltan will continue hunger striking. “We will visit him next week and find out,” Heneish told Mada.
Soltan’s health was critically impacted by his year-long hunger strike. In response to pleas from his family, he shifted to a partial strike on January 20.
“I’ve watched your body go from a plump basketball-playing frame to one that has withered down to its bones. Your face, with its beautiful smile often grinning, now looks permanently in pain. And all I can do to explain is to tell people that it’s the only form of control you have to hold on to,” Soltan’s sister, Hanaa, wrote in a letter published by Amnesty International on Friday, just a day before he received his verdict. Amnesty has been actively campaigning for his release.
Hanaa concluded her letter by thanking those fighting for her brother’s freedom, writing, “Mohamed, you are blessed in many ways to have your story reach so many. There are at least 16,000 more prisoners in Egypt with stories like yours.”
In a statement sent to Mada Masr by email on Saturday morning, the Free Soltan Campaign stated, “Without a fair trial or hearing of any evidence presented against him, Mohamed — a brother, a son, a friend, and an advocate for democracy whose idealism motivated him to constantly work for peace and justice — has been sentenced to life in prison. As a nation that prides itself on justice and democracy, it is an abomination that a US citizen who committed no crime has been in prison for even a day, let alone a year and a half.”
The Free Soltan campaign will continue to fight until Soltan is released, the statement said, appealing to supporters to rally behind the campaign and work for Soltan’s freedom. Campaign organizers also exhorted the US government to apply pressure for Soltan’s extradition.
The Journalists Syndicate Freedom Committee also issued a statement condemning the verdict on Saturday afternoon. Several of the defendants sentenced to life in prison were journalists, including Hani Salah al-Din and Ahmed Sabiah, according to the statement.
The syndicate is now “in the process of forming a legal committee to study the situation of all journalists, whether syndicate members or not, who were sentenced in the ‘Rabea operations room’ case, and to search for legal ways to obtain their release pending the case’s final ruling,” the statement said.
The syndicate went on to hold the Interior Ministry accountable for Salah al-Din’s failing health. “The prison doctors said he needed emergency surgery,” the statement alleged. “The syndicate demands a quick response, as well as the improvement of living conditions for all our colleagues in prison, including those who were sentenced today, and those imprisoned in other cases whose sentences are still pending.”