26 sentenced to death, 21 to life in prison for Aswan violence

Twenty-six people were sentenced to death and 21 to life in prison for involvement in tribal violence in Aswan two years ago.

The case, heard by Qena Criminal Court, involved 163 defendants, of whom: 100 were found innocent, 26 were sentenced to death, 21 were sentenced to life in prison, three were sentenced to 15 years in prison, 10 were sentenced to three years, three were sentenced to 10 years and two were sentenced to two years.

The defendants were convicted of a number of charges, including murder, inciting violence, theft, abduction, attacking police personnel, illegal arms possession and the destruction of public and private property in connection to violence that erupted between the Dabodeya and Hilail tribes in early 2014.

At least 28 people died, hundreds more were injured and several buildings were destroyed in the violent clashes, which began after a fight between school children, who insulted women from both tribal groups, according to the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper, which cited eyewitness testimonies in court.

Police forces initially withdrew from the Seil al-Rify area after the violence began, with tribal leaders ultimately intervening to end the conflict. A reconciliation session was conducted under the supervision of police and representatives from Al-Azhar.

Mohamed Azmy, one of the lawyers for the defendants, told Mada Masr the verdict is political. “I know there were people who got life imprisonment in cases where there is no proof they were involved,” he said, adding that others received stronger verdicts for conflicts with police.

The court didn’t seem to be concerned whether or not the sentences were fair, Azmy asserted, suggesting that harsh punishments were handed out to deter future violent outbreaks in the area.

“They are afraid of the people and afraid of the violence starting again,” he said, adding that the defense team would be appealing the verdicts.

Sherif Azer, a human rights activist and PhD candidate at New York University, previously told Mada Masr that the state has taken up these mass cases partly due to public pressure for justice.

“This was not like other cases of tribal violence. The case got strong media attention nationally and internationally, so the state was in a position where it had to pursue legal processes,” Azer said at the time, speculating that it is unlikely all of the defendants were guilty due to the large number implicated in the case.

Tribal violence is common in Upper Egypt, and the government has frequently been blamed for failing to implement the law, leaving residents to resort to traditional reconciliation sessions led by tribal leaders in order to restore peace.  

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