Regarding the March 27 AP article, “Anti-Islamist fervor prompts harsh Egypt court sentences“: Commenting on reactions from foreign quarters to a Minya criminal court decision referring death sentences against 529 defendants, implicated in acts of sabotage, to the Mufti of the Republic for his opinion, the head of the Ministry of Justice press office, Counselor Abdel Azim el-Ashry, explained the following:

(1) One of the basic principles of a democratic system is separation among authorities and the confirmation of the independence of the judiciary, together with noninterference by the executive authority in the judicial authority’s activities. These principles do not categorically allow comments on judicial rulings by any inside or outside party, since such comments would undermine the independence of the judiciary.

(2) The defendants whose sentences were referred to the Mufti of the Republic for confirmation were tried before an ordinary court and a natural judge — not at a summary court.

(3) The court judge issued a decision, not a verdict, after listening to eyewitnesses, and urged taking the opinion of the Mufti of the Republic for confirmation of the death sentences. The opinion of the Mufti is not mandatory, and when the case papers are referred back to court, the judge has the right to uphold his decision or change it.

(4) All defendants have the right, in case a sentence of death or imprisonment for life is issued, to appeal the verdict before the court of cassation. Also, the public prosecution has the right to challenge the ruling even if it was not appealed at the court of cassation. The court of cassation has the right either to reverse the ruling, send it back to another court for review of the case from the very beginning, or uphold it. Even if the new court upholds the death sentences, the defendants could, for the second time, appeal the ruling, and in this case, the court of cassation would take over settling the case.

(5) Most of those sentenced to death (more than 350) were tried in absentia. Therefore, if they show up in court, they have the right to talk to the court panel, and the jury must listen to them and form a new opinion. This means looking into the case from the very beginning and starting new litigation procedures before the same court.

dr. joseph ramezin
formation counselor, egyptian embassy

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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