UN Rights Chief Slams Egypt Over Mass Death Sentences

Brotherhood leader says death sentences will bring down government; Germany summons Egyptian ambassador.

Egyptian women faint
Egyptian women faint outside the courtroom after Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and other alleged Islamists were sentenced to death on April 28, 2014. AFP

The top United Nations human rights official on Tuesday condemned Egypt's sentencing of 683 people to death, saying that the mass trial had clearly breached international law requiring due process.

An Egyptian court sentenced the leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and 682 supporters to death on Monday, intensifying a crackdown on the movement that could trigger protests and political violence before an election next month.

"It is outrageous that for the second time in two months, the Sixth Chamber of the Criminal Court in Al-Minya has imposed the death sentence on huge groups of defendants after perfunctory trials," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement.

International guarantees of a fair trial "appear to be increasingly trampled upon" in Egypt, Pillay said, noting that 529 people were sentenced to death by the same court in March.

UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing: "It is clearly and absolutely not considered to be a fair trial. Most of the defendants were tried in absentia, most of them did not have access to lawyers, apparently the defense did not have an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. These are very, very basic fair trial guarantees."

'The regime is on the brink of collapse'

The senior leader of Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood said on Tuesday that the mass death sentences against him and other members will cause the government's downfall.

"This ruling is the last nail in the coffin of the ruling powers that led the coup," said Brotherhood general guide Mohammed Badie. "The regime is on the brink of collapse."

The Brotherhood says it is committed to peaceful resistance to the army-backed government. The death sentence against Badie, 70, is likely to fuel growing concerns that young members of the movement could resort to violence against the state.

Germany summons Egyptian ambassador

Germany has summoned the Egyptian ambassador to protest against the mass death sentences and to urge Cairo to allow people a just trial, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

"The hundreds of death sentences make a mockery of what we understand to be democratic principles," Foreign Minster Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement.

"The Egyptian authorities are risking further destabilization of their country and a cementing of political and social divisions ahead of the presidential elections in May," he added, urging Cairo to repeal the death sentences.