World Bulletin/News Desk
The United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday an Egyptian court's decision to sentence 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death contravened international law, and voiced concern for thousands of others facing the same charges.
Rights campaigners and lawyers described Monday's ruling as the biggest mass death penalty handed out in Egypt's modern history.
The Muslim Brotherhood's leader and 682 others went on trial on Tuesday in the same court.
"The mass imposition of the death penalty after a trial rife with procedural irregularities is in breach of international human rights law," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said at a news briefing in Geneva.
"A mass trial of 529 people conducted over just two days cannot possibly have met even the most basic requirements for a fair trial," he said.
Some 398 of the defendants were tried in absentia, he said.
The exact charges against each defendant were unclear as they were not read out in court and not all defendants had a lawyer, Colville said.
Defence lawyers said that they did not have proper access to their clients and that the court did not consider evidence they had presented on their behalf, he said.
"It is particularly worrying that there are thousands of other defendants who have been detained since last July on similar charges. The Minya criminal court in southern Egypt is today trying more than 600 individuals for membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, among other charges," Colville said.
US shocked but still talking to government
The United States said on Monday it was shocked by death sentences handed down on 529 members of Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, but said it was still talking to the Egyptian government.
"We're certainly raising it with the Egyptian government ... it's a pretty shocking number," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a regular news briefing.
"It defies logic that over 529 defendants could be tried in a two-day period in accordance with international standards," she said.
An Egyptian court issued the death sentences on Monday for murder and other offenses. Most of the defendants were charged with carrying out attacks during clashes that erupted in the southern province of Minya after the forced dispersal of two Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo in August.
Harf said the United States still considered its ties with Egypt to be important and added: "We don't want to completely cut off the relationship."
She said there had been "pretty significant bumps in the road" as the United States sought to encourage a democratic transition in Egypt.
"I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say that it's been easy or without problems, and I think this is an example of that," she said, adding that the number of politically motivated arrests, convictions and detentions in Egypt since July had been "very disturbing."
"It's a trend we don't want to see continue. And we'll keep working with the interim government to see if we can make some progress here."
While it has expressed concern over a crackdown on Islamists and liberals by Egypt's military-backed government in which hundreds have been killed and thousands jailed, Washington has continued to describe the country -- which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal -- as a vital partner.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on March 12 he would decide "in the days ahead" whether to resume U.S. aid to Egypt after suspending the funds last year over the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi and a crackdown against protesters.
A congressional spending bill unveiled in January would restore more than $1.5 billion in military and economic aid to Egypt, but a decision by Kerry is needed for the funds to flow again.
Egypt has been among the largest recipients of U.S. military and economic aid for decades because of its 1979 peace treaty with U.S. ally Israel, which agreed as a result of the pact to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula it had seized from Egypt in 1967.
Last Mod: 25 Mart 2014, 14:03