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Egypt court confirms death sentences for 21 involved in fatal soccer riot

A Cairo court on Saturday affirmed the death sentences of 21 individuals convicted of inciting a deadly riot after a soccer match in Port Said last February. In addition to confirming that the convicted individuals are to be hanged [Guardian report] for their involvement in the riot, the court handed down verdicts for the remaining 52 defendants also charged in the incident, which killed 74 people and injured more than a thousand when Port Said fans of Al-Masry violently stormed the field and attacked Al-Ahly fans from Cairo. Of those who received their verdicts on Saturday, 24 were sentenced to prison and 28 were acquitted, including seven of the nine police officers who were charged in the incident. The verdicts were announced on live television and sparked protests in both Port Said and Cairo, with Al-Masry fans angered by the convictions of their fellow residents and Al-Ahly fans angered by the acquittals of the police officers. Hundreds took to the streets in Port Said following the verdicts, and in Cairo at least two have been killed [WP report] as Al-Ahly fans clashed with police, setting fire to a police club and the country’s football federation headquarters. On both sides it is widely believed that police were responsible for causing the riot, during which police reportedly retreated from the crowd and cut electricity to the stadium, leaving many fans to be crushed against locked doors in the darkness.

Dozens have died in street protests since the death sentences were originally handed down in late January, leading President Mohamed Morsi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to declare a state of emergency [JURIST reports] in an attempt to quell the violent protests that subsequently erupted. Egypt has been plagued by protests and violence since the beginning of the Egyptian Revolution [JURIST backgrounder] two years ago. Also in January an Egyptian rights group reported that police abuse and torture continue to be ongoing issues [JURIST report] and that police conduct has not improved since the abuses faced under the old regime. In December Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court indefinitely halted operations [JURIST report] amid pressure from protestors aiming to block judges from meeting to rule on the validity of the country's new constitution.

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