[JURIST] A court in Cairo on Tusday sentenced four police officers convicted of negligence and manslaughter for their roles in connection with the deaths of 37 Islamist detainees who reportedly died of asphyxiation when a tear gas grenade was fired into the truck they were being transported in. At the time, the Interior Ministry had claimed [Reuters report] that the men were killed during an unsuccessful attempt to escape from prison. Three of the men were given one-year suspended sentences, but the formerDeputy Chief of the Heliopolis police station, Lt. Col. Amr Farouk was given a 10-year sentence with labor [BBC report]. The victims’ families and their lawyers reportedly expressed [AP report] dissatisfaction with the outcome, stating that the sentences were too light and that the offenders should have been tried for murder. The detainees were supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, and the incident took place shortly after violent breakups by Egyptian troops of protests decrying his removal by the military last year. Many of the detainees who died were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was recently declared a terrorist organization by the new Egyptian government, prompting criticisms that the relatively light sentences are a reflection of the government’s attitude towards the group and its members.
Political conflict in Egypt has been ongoing since the 2011 revolution [JURIST backgrounder] that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak from power. Much of that conflict has recently occurred between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the former government of Muhammed Morsi, and supporters of the new government in place since his ouster in July 2013, especially since the organization’s formal ban [JURIST reports] in September. On March 4 a Cairo court declared [JURIST report] the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas to be a terrorist organization and banned its activities in Egypt, based on its connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. In February Egypt’s Prosecutor General referred [JURIST report] 504 members of the Muslim Brotherhood for a mass trial alleging a plethora of various crimes committed in relation to the August 16 “Day of Rage” [Al Jazeera report]. In January, 113 supporters and members of the Muslim Brotherhood were convicted of various crimes, following the conviction [JURIST reports] of 139 pro-Morsi supporters in December. Also in that month Human Rights Watch urged [JURIST report] the Egyptian government to reconsider and reverse its branding of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.