An Egyptian military court sentenced 17 people to death due to their involvement with several terrorist bombings that occurred in 2016 and 2017. The court also sentenced a further 19 people to life prison terms, and 10 others were given a sentence of between 10 and 15 years. This series of attacks began in December of 2016, when a suicide bomber killed 29 people at St. Peter and Paul’s Church in Cairo. This chapel is adjacent to St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, which is the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
This attack was specifically focused on a place of worship for the Coptic Christians, a minority in Egypt that makes up roughly 10% of the population. The Coptic Christians have long been the target of violent attacks, mainly by Muslim extremists, on grounds of their divergent beliefs. The intense persecution they face today has increased exponentially following the collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011. The Egyptian government has been criticized by numerous human rights groups as being ineffective in addressing the problems the Copts face. In addition to suffering terror attacks, the Copts have seen their houses set on fire, property looted, and have been physically attacked, according to a report from Amnesty International.
In April of 2017, two more suicide bombings were also targeted to the Copt minority. The bombings took place on Palm Sunday, one at St. George’s Church in Tanta, a city on the Nile Delta, and the other at Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. The death toll amounted to 47, with an additional 126 injured. Once again, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombings. The increase in attacks perpetrated by the Islamic State is also likely connected to the military overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. When Morsi’s supporters protested the coup, the military silenced them during the Rabaa Massacre in August of 2013, which led to the deaths of over 800 civilians. Since then, Islamic militancy has dramatically increased in retaliation.
As the New York Times reported, Egypt’s crackdown of attacks like these under current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has often involved mass trials and death sentences. In fact, between December 2017 and March 2018, 39 people were executed by the Egyptian government, a move that has been met with widespread concern from human rights organizations. Sara el-Sherif, of the Egyptian group No Military Trials for Civilians, said defendants in military courts typically have no access to their lawyers. “Military trials take injustice a step further beyond lousy civilian trials,” she told the New York Times.
Amnesty International disavowed this latest mass sentencing, claiming that, “Handing out a mass death sentence after an unfair military trial is not justice and will not deter further sectarian attacks.” The human rights advocacy group admitted that the terrorists need to be held accountable for their crimes, but that the perpetrators should be “retried in a civilian court in proceedings that comply with international human rights law.” Those who have been sentenced can still appeal the decision, and hopefully there is still the possibility of a fair trial being carried out. Terrorist acts need to be met with swift responses, but dealing out numerous death sentences through unjust military courts’ judgements is not the best answer to the issue at hand.