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ICC Note: Recent trials for members of the recently banned political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, kick off with an obviously tense politicized undertone. Their brief rule in the Egyptian government proved deadly to religious minorities, most particularly Christians. The obvious question comes: how should Egyptian Christians respond to these trials? In an attempt to uphold adopted Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Egyptians are seeking and should continue to seek fair trials. A legal system that ignores its laws will not be able to protect the rights of anyone. So Christians should call for trials to be carried out on the basis of evidence and for those responsible for the violence to receive punishment in accordance with the law.

By Ishak Ibrahim

05/16/2014 Egypt (Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy) – Many people asking for fair and just trials for members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood have faced extensive criticism, including even accusations of supporting terrorism and undermining the state by questioning the conduct of its institutions. This so despite the unnecessarily harsh sentences, the speed at which they have been issuing, and the clear disregard of the rights of the accused in the Minya Criminal Court cases, which last month resulted in confirmed death sentences for 37 people convicted in the first trial linked to Matai police station attack and (preliminary) death sentences for another 683 suspects pending the receipt of the Grand Mufti’s opinion on the case. When I happened to voice criticism of the court proceedings in a casual setting recently, a judge stated: “They [the Muslim Brotherhood] need to be publicly executed without trial. Did you forget what they did to churches and police stations?” While this judge is not involved with either of the Matai cases, his view reflects that of a large segment of Egypt’s judiciary.

Many segments of Egyptian society are supportive of such snap trials of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters, including proponents of the former regime, some supporters of the army’s June 2013 intervention, and many Copts. Support for trials like these within the Coptic community is quite strong, and it has been said that Copts gloat in these trials and look to them for a quick annihilation of the Brotherhood. What, one might ask, motivates this community groups to approve of these hasty, unjust trials for Muslim Brotherhood members, even when its members have themselves been the victims of unfair investigations by the prosecution in numerous cases of sectarian violence? Should not fair trials for Muslim Brotherhood members be of paramount importance to Copts? Are not credible trials necessary for those accused of church burning and the attacks on the property of Christians?

The question now is: Even acknowledging the many prior bad acts of the Brotherhood, some of which are mentioned above, should Egyptians accept the clearly politicized trials of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters for attacks on police stations, courts, churches, and the properties of Christians?

The answer to this question is a definite no. The judiciary exists to protect all citizens and to respect and uphold their rights. When feelings of anger and political and religious polarization are strong enough among a majority of the political and executive leadership and the citizenry, the judiciary is supposed to provide safe haven both for those treated unjustly (to receive recompense for their losses) and for those accused of crimes (to be given fair trials according to the law and the general rights and freedoms of citizens). The right of the accused—regardless of the crime in question—to a trial before a natural, independent, objective judge is considered an internationally protected human right and is acknowledged in international rights agreements as well as in the Egyptian constitution. This is just one of a number of rights and procedures meant to ensure a fair trial for the accused.

Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a party, states that “All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

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