After his interview with Al-Watan on Saturday was ridiculed on social media, notorious judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata retracted his comments, implying the interview was fabricated and instigating a war of rhetoric with the privately owned newspaper.
In a phone-in on Dream TV, Shehata denied making comments to the newspaper, in which he reportedly criticized certain media personalities, the Court of Cassation and the January 25 revolution.
“If this is really my opinion,” the judge asked, “would I just express it like that?”
Shehata said he generally respects journalists, but added that he knows nothing about the comments published in the interview.
“There is no way I can make comments on media personalities,” he asserted.
His retraction was welcomed by host Nashaat al-Meehy, who thanked the judge and said he was “extremely happy that the judicial authority doesn’t express its political opinions.”
Shehata maintained the interview was conducted around general topics, specifically the video “The Execution of a Nation,” which criticizes the mass death sentences he’s handed down.
In response, Al-Watan newspaper published a statement maintaining it abided by principles of accuracy and objectivity when reporting on Shehata’s statements.
The newspaper added that it had omitted other comments Shehata made on the Court of Cassation, “which would have ignited sedition among judicial institutions.”
Al-Watan threatened to publish “every letter and word” recorded in the interview if Shehata doesn’t retract his denial of the interview.
Shehata is notorious for handing down mass death sentences, giving him the popular nickname “the death penalty judge.”
Last December, he sentenced 188 defendants to death for violence in the Giza town of Kerdasa in 2013.
In March, he sentenced Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and 13 others to death on charges of establishing an operations room to instruct Muslim 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 the same case, he sentenced Mohamed Soltan to life in prison, along with 36 others. Soltan’s father Salah Soltan was also sentenced to death.
In the Cabinet Clashes case, Shehata sentenced activist Ahmed Douma and 229 others to life in prison and fined them LE17 million collectively for damages to the scientific institute. When Douma reacted to the verdict, Shehata said he would add three more years to his sentence.
Shehata also presided over the infamous Al Jazeera case, in which he sentenced three journalists to seven to 10 years in jail for aiding a “terrorist organization.” Eleven other Al Jazeera staffers, who were tried in absentia, also received 10 years jail-time. The sentence caused international outrage.
Below are some excerpts from the interview, published in Al-Watan’s Saturday edition:
When asked why he was dubbed “the death penalty judge,” Shehata reportedly said:
“Because I follow the law and if I am sure that a defendant is convicted, I give him the harshest punishment for terrorism crimes. If I second-guess myself for one second and if I doubt any piece of evidence, I don’t hand down the death penalty. The verdict isn’t issued by the head of the court alone, there are two other members who have their say, and thankfully their say always matches mine. If all opinions point in one direction, then this is a sign from God that we are on the right path.”
When asked if the nickname bothers him, he replied:
“If it’s given to me by members of extremist religious currents, then I am so pleased and happy with it.”
Several of Shehata’s verdicts were overturned by the Court of Cassation, including the Marriott Cell case concerning Al Jazeera journalists and the Rabea operations room case. Al-Watan asked if there were specific reasons for this.
“If the Court of Cassation has another point of view, then I welcome this debate, but our work is based on difference of opinion, like in the Marriott Cell case, which was considered to be the first one related to terrorism, and in which I sentenced defendants to seven and nine years and acquitted three defendants, including [Mohamed] Beltagi’s son because of lack of evidence. The court annulled the verdict and ordered a retrial, when all the defendants were sentenced to three years, which means there was agreement they should be convicted, but the judge be allowed to move between the maximum and minimum sentences.”
On “The Execution of a Nation” video:
“First of all, the video shows someone playing my character wearing dark sunglasses and holding a rosary, and I’ve never held a rosary in any court session. It says, “Execute a nation and prepare a shroud. By God, tomorrow you will be hung by a rope woven by the shroud.” Here, it referred to the terrorist group [the Muslim Brotherhood] as a nation. Is this nation comprised of a group of criminals and traitors? Also, the phrase, “tomorrow you will be hung,” is instigation in the eyes of the law,” Shehata said. “The video incites fellow traitors to commit a crime against me.
The video also shows a man in military uniform holding a case file in front of me, which implies that I work for the Armed Forces and that the judiciary has been tarnished. This is slander and libel, which is punishable by a year in jail, according to Article 133.
The song also incites a revolution, and the video includes footage from the ‘25 losses’ revolution, which in turn is call for a civil war.”
What does Shehata mean by “losses?”
“Because it destroyed Egyptian morals. The real reason for this description came after I watched videos of the Cabinet clashes [December 2011], which showed defendants dancing after burning their history and heritage at the Scientific Complex, and they were very happy, including Ahmed Douma,” who Shehata sentenced to life in prison in this case.
Shehata’s thoughts on the media:
“There is a team of media personalities who purposely insult state institutions, specifically the police and the Armed Forces. As an Egyptian citizen, I hate any media personality who considers destroying the state. But, there are one or two that I follow — Ahmed Moussa, who is good and has the country’ best interest at heart. Osama Kamal is also balanced, Tawfik Okasha is entertaining and addresses a large segment of society. He cares about the farmers, the illiterate and laborers.
I was asked to conduct a phone in on Tamer Amin’s show but I refused because I don’t like him … Don’t talk to me about moral standards when every other day you are at clubs like Salt and Pepper and After 8. I also don’t like Sherif Amer because he is pro [Mohamed] al-Baradei and I would talk to Mona al-Shazly over my dead body, as she also supports Baradei and was the first to interview him and Wael Ghonim.”
On President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi:
“The President is like the head car pulling a train and exerting a lot of effort to push the country forward, but there are internal and external forces trying to slow him down. Our country would’ve fallen if it weren’t for him, and if it falls again, it wont get up.”