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Mass death sentence in Egypt draws condemnation

International | A court ordered the executions of more than 300 people over protests in 2013
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 9/18/18, 04:10 pm

Egypt caused an international stir earlier this month after it dished out death sentences to 75 people, including leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, over protests in 2013. The country continues to face condemnation and pressure to backtrack on the ruling, but analysts say it’s unlikely Egypt will relent.

An Egyptian court tried 739 defendants on charges from inciting violence to murder. In addition to the death sentences, the court sentenced 374 people to 15 years in prison and 215 others to five years. Some 23 other defendants received 10-year sentences, while five other charges were dropped after the defendants died.

The charges followed the 2013 sit-in protest over the ousting of Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood supporter and the first democratically elected president of Egypt after the 2011 uprising. Rights groups said security forces killed about 900 people while breaking up the protests.

Amnesty International’s North Africa campaigns director Najia Bounaim condemned the verdict and called for a retrial, saying, “The fact that not a single police officer has been brought to account for the killing of at least 900 people in the Rabaa and Nahda protests shows what a mockery of justice the trial was.”

United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet noted the defendants did not receive individual legal representation and were not permitted to present evidence in their defense. France—Egypt’s close ally—also called on the country to suspend the sentences.

Mohamed El Masry, a political analyst, told Al-Jazeera the sentencing is the latest amid a crackdown on all forms of dissent, including political parties and media outlets. “It was unfortunate and it's probably unlikely this form of repression stops anytime soon,” El Masry said.

Analysts say the U.S. stance is not helping: A day before the sentencing, the U.S. State Department said it allocated $1 billion in military aid to Egypt in the 2018 fiscal year. Earlier in July, the State Department released $195 million previously on hold over human rights concerns.

Amr Kotb, an advocacy director with the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle Eastern Policy, told Voice of America the United States has the ability to promote fundamental freedom and rights. “Releasing the aid gives the Egyptian government carte blanche to continue with its crackdown, and perhaps even take it a step further,” he said.

Associated Press/Photo by Peter Schneider/Keystone (file) Associated Press/Photo by Peter Schneider/Keystone (file) A virologist at the Spiez Laboratory in Switzerland

Another Russian hack

The Netherlands months ago arrested and expelled two Russians who tried to hack into a Swiss laboratory where scientists tested samples from the Novichok nerve agent used in the attack in Salisbury, England, in March, Swiss authorities said.

The Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) said the men were arrested as part of an operation involving British, Swiss, and Dutch intelligence agencies.

The Swiss daily newspaper Tages-Anzeiger said the men carried equipment that could aid in breaking into the Spiez Laboratory’s computer network. “The FIS has thus contributed to the prevention of illegal actions against a critical Swiss infrastructure,” FIS spokeswoman Isabelle Graber said.

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia passed out on March 4 in a Salisbury park after being exposed to the military-grade nerve agent. British officials blamed the Russian intelligence agency for the poisoning. The Spiez Laboratory confirmed British claims that the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok. Russia repeatedly denied responsibility. The Skripals survived the attack, but two other Salisbury residents were later exposed to the agent, and one of them died.

Stanislav Smirnov, a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Switzerland, called the report absurd, according to the Russian state Tass news agency. “We believe that this is a new anti-Russian bogus story made up by the Western media,” he said. —O.O.

Getty Images/Photo by Diptendu Dutta/AFP (file) Getty Images/Photo by Diptendu Dutta/AFP (file) A Christian prays at a Christmas service in Allahabad, India.

Pentecostal church faces bizarre charges in India

Police in Jaunpur district in India’s Uttar Pradesh state recently charged 271 Christians with various crimes, including “spreading misinformation” about Hinduism.

A court ordered an investigation and charges after a Hindu activist group, Hindu Jagran Manch, filed a complaint against a Pentecostal congregation. HJM claimed the Christians were drugging people to convert them, according to UCA News.

The allegations were “absolutely false and baseless,” Pastor A. Anil told UCA News. Shibu Thomas of Persecution Relief agreed, calling the drugging accusation absurd, adding, “No one would do such a thing in Christianity.”

False accusations are a common method of harassing Christians, according to International Christian Concern. “Due to police bias, these often obviously false accusations are accepted and lead to lengthy legal battles,” ICC wrote about the charges.

HJM opposes conversions from Hinduism to other religions and has tried to reconvert Muslims and Christians. In 2017, The Times of India reported HJM condemned Christian school celebrations of Christmas, claiming they were a step toward “forced conversions.” —Julia A. Seymour

A new migration route

The number of migrants illegally crossing through the western Mediterranean Sea to Spain more than doubled this year, even as the European Union saw a decline in the total number of migrant arrivals, according to the EU’s border agency.

Frontex in a statement said the total arrivals fell to about 86,500 people between January and August—down by 40 percent from the same time last year. The reduction came amid fewer arrivals along the central route from Libya into Italy, which had served as the major entry point. Frontex said arrivals coming that way dropped by 80 percent from last year.

While Italy saw fewer arrivals, Spain had 6,500 in August—double the number compared to the same time last year. The majority of arrivals came from Morocco, Guinea, and Mali. “The presence of some nationalities that in the past had mainly passed through Libya indicate that some migratory flows have shifted to the western Mediterranean route,” according to Frontex. —O.O.

China targets religious groups online

In the Chinese government’s ongoing crackdown on religious activity, the internet is the latest target. The country released new regulations that require religious groups with online services to apply for licenses and be judged morally fit and politically reliable, the State Administration for Religious Affairs said.

The regulations prevent live streaming and stop organizations from posting content anywhere other than their own platforms. The Chinese government in recent months intensified its monitoring of religious groups. On Sept. 9, it shut down Zion Church, one of the largest protestant churches in Beijing. The church refused a government mandate earlier in April to install closed-circuit cameras in the church and faced threats of eviction. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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