The first death penalty following the revolution that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, has been handed down as a police officer found guilty of killing protesters was sentenced to death.
The court sentenced Mohammed Mahmud Abdul Mun'em for killing 20 protesters and wounding 15 on January 28, a day considered as one of the pivotal days of the revolution as it saw hundreds of thousands defiant Egyptians take to the streets.
According to Nile TV, the court found Mun'em had randomly fired at demonstrators. However, as authorities have been unable to locate Mun'em, it is still unknown what evidence the court based its judgement on.
Capital punishment has been implemented in Egypt since the days of the Ancient Egyptian civilisation.According to Amnesty International it is currently reserved for crimes related to terrorism, as well as for premeditated murder, rape and drug related offences or high treason. There are currently two methods of execution in Egypt. The first and more commonly used is hanging, mostly used on civilian criminals, while the firing squad is specifically used for soldiers and military personnel who commit capital crimes.
The sentence is the most severe penalty to date levied against those accused of killing and torturing protesters during the demonstrations that led to the stepping down of President Mubarak, still detained by Egyptian authorities in connection with ordering the deaths of protesters during the revolution.
Amnesty International has announced that the number of people killed during the protests amount to 840, while adding that 6,000 people were left wounded. Talking about the way the former government handled the demonstrations and demonstrators, the organisation said it found "damning" evidence that Egyptian security forces used excessive force to disperse protesters.
According to one of its published reports, the vast majority of victims came from underprivileged backgrounds and many died from gunshot wounds to the head and chest. The report also denounces the use of torture as protesters were beaten with sticks or whips, electric shocks and menaced with repeated threats of rape while being detained.
The initial mass protest on the 25 January coincided with the Egyptian police day. For many protesters it symbolised a way to publicly condemn police brutality and call for an end to the 30 years of emergency rule, put in place immediately after the assassination of former Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat. The protest was illegal under Egyptian law permission had not been sought.
However, despite warning from the government and security forces, in Cairo people descended to the streets en masse and as they marched toward Tahir Square the fear of protesting in public seemed to disappear. On Friday 28 January, when mass demonstrations were announced the police tried to block off cities but any attempt proved unsuccessful, the people had taken the streets and were not ready to let them go.
In Egypt, the security forces have been accused of repression and corruption for a very long time. The abuse of their powers, often leading to unjustified arrests, the sudden suspension of constitutional rights, restriction of demonstration, and circumscription of any potential oppositional political activity were well-known facts widely denounced by Egyptian public figures. All those years where abuse was carried out with impunity, have unfortunately led to a deepening of human rights violations within the security forces.
Under emergency rules, tens of thousands of people were regularly detained for months without charges or any prospect of trials. Political opponents, anti-government protestors, people from religious minorities and journalists were among the most affected by these unconstitutional acts.
Since his 2005 campaign, Mubarak was under increasing pressure to get rid of emergency rule. In May 2010, while he renewed it for one more year, the former president limited its scope of application. However the killing of 28 year-old Khaled Mohammed Said in Alexandria the following June (two police officers were seen beating him to death in public) further fuelled people's anger at the constant brutality of the police forces.
The case united government opponents who set- up a movement called "we are all Khaled Said", and they soon amassed thousands of followers via their Facebook account. This very same group is said to have played a key role in the organising of the January protests.
It seems that by sentencing so severely a man accused of killing the protestors, the transitional government wants to convince the Egyptian public that crimes committed against them will be from now on highly condemned. However it might be useful to remember that protests in the country were not restricted to the unaccountability of the security forces but rather also covered a wide range of other grievances such as demand for constitutional reform, solidarity with Palestinians and Iraqis, pay rises, demand for democracy, for more freedom, and improvement of life conditions...
While a majority of Egyptian politicians support the elimination of death penalties for most of the crimes that currently carry capital sentences, particularly those of a political nature, they are nonetheless insistent it should not be entirely eliminated.
"It's a penalty that cannot be undone," Ayman Aqeel, head of the Maat Centre and coordinator for the Egyptian Coalition against the Death Penalty, told IPS. He added, "In Egypt, where there's a good deal of official corruption and negligence, there have been several past cases when convicts condemned to death were subsequently vindicated."
"The alliance therefore supports the abolition of the death penalty for all crimes except premeditated murder," explained Aqeel. "And even in this case, defendants must be subject to impartial investigations and have the right to appeal the verdict more than once."
It seems then that the brutality and ignorance of human rights that contributed to the start of the Egyptian revolution has yet to be addressed in this supposed new era. Instead of pursuing a circle of violence and brutality, maybe the new leaders should look forward and start dealing with the real issues that are now hampering the growth of the Egyptian society: unemployment, failing state structures and institutions, economic stagnation and the increase in poverty and finally the realisation that law should be the embodiment of justice not oppression and brutality.