by Mahmoud Fouly
CAIRO, March 25 (Xinhua) -- The recent ruling that handed down death sentences to more than 500 supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohamed Morsi has raised serious concerns on human rights in the turmoil-stricken country.
On Monday, a criminal court in Upper Egypt sentenced some 529 people suspected of being "Muslim Brotherhood loyalists" to death over charges of assaulting police stations last year. Earlier the security forces violently dispersed two major pro-Morsi sit-ins, which left about 1,000 people dead and lead to the arrest of thousands more.
On Tuesday 14 Egyptian human rights organizations issued a joint statement condemning the verdict as "dangerous and unprecedented transformation of the Egyptian judiciary and massive violation of the rights to fair trial and to life."
"It took only three days for the court to decide to execute over 500 humans, raising questions about human rights in general and justice in particular, which is one of the most important pillars of the state," said Mohamed Zarie, a lawyer and also a human rights activist.
Zarie argued that such a verdict might shake people's faith in Egypt's judiciary, adding that the defense team was not given a chance to defend their clients. He said all defendants deserve a fair trial regardless of whether they are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The verdict comes while Egypt's security is launching a massive crackdown on Morsi supporters, particularly the recently- blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood group, who have been staging anti- government protests since Morsi's removal by the military in last July.
"It is catastrophic if the judiciary gets involved in political disputes," Zarie warned, noting that even the government of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted by popular protests in 2011, did not neutralize or manipulate judiciary.
Zarie reassured that it is "impossible" to carry out the mass death verdict as it will be appealed for lacking proper procedures and legal bases.
"The issue is not whether it will be carried out or not but about a big mistake that must be avoided because it negatively affect the reputation of the Egyptian judiciary," he lamented.
The UN human rights office said Tuesday that it is "deeply alarmed by the imposition of the death penalty against 529 people in Egypt on Monday after a cursory of mass trial."
Also on Tuesday, the same criminal court in Minya province in south Egypt adjourned a mass trial of 683 pro-Morsi defendants who are accused of inciting violence and riots.
Although Mohamed Fayek, head of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, said he had full respect for the Egyptian judicial institution and its independency, he saw the mass death verdict was "very shocking and alarming."
"I feel concerned especially because the verdicts come at a time when the council is working on limiting the crimes incurring death penalties in Egypt," Fayek said.
With all due respect for the judiciary, it is "unacceptable" to issue death penalties against 529 people in this way, the human rights activist said, emphasizing the verdict is still subject to appeal.
The controversial mass death sentences come as Egypt is preparing the final phases of its post-Morsi transitional roadmap symbolized in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, following approval of the newly-drafted constitution.
Meanwhile some commentators believe that a dire human rights situation is exaggerated by the Western media to criticize Egypt and pressure the interim leadership.
Saeed Sadeq, professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo, said that media criticism of the government is "a foreign conspiracy carried out by local tools," reflecting the sentiment of some Egyptians who see criticism of the interim government as supporting "terrorism."
The professor said that the "pro-Brotherhood media" wanted to depict the issue as military fascism, a crackdown on protesters and violation of human rights, "while in fact it is a war against terrorism."
"The verdict is still not final, but it is only a message," Sadeq continued, "It has political and psychological goals, namely to intimidate assailants against the military, the police and the judiciary, which are the pillars of any state."
However, Sadeq agreed with others that it is unlikely that the death sentences will be carried out, "because more than 350 of the defendants were not present and it is only meant to intimidate others."