Update: Acquittals, death sentences draw fire

The Port Said Criminal Court, headed by Judge Sobhy Abdel Meguid, on Saturday acquitted 28 defendants, sentenced five to life and confirmed the death sentence for 21 of 73 defendants accused of killing 72 fans in the aftermath of a match turned violent in February 2012.

Hassan Yassin, head of the Public Prosecution’s technical office, has said that the prosecutor general wouldn’t appeal the acquittals of the 28 defendants until reviewing the rationale behind the verdict, telling MENA that doing so would be a violation of the law.

Yassin said that any decision to appeal would need to take into account the rationale behind sentencing some of the defendants and acquitting the rest.

The court case resumed on Saturday morning at the Police Academy in New Cairo, and immediately drew fiery responses from Port Said for the confirmed death sentences.

Several Ultras Ahlawy members set fire to the Police Club and the headquarters of the Egyptian Football Association, located in the Gezira area of Zamalek, near Cairo Tower, to protest the acquittals. Police responded with tear gas.

Several ultras then blocked traffic on a ramp leading to the 6th of October Bridge, while another group stopped train traffic at the Sadat metro stop for 10 minutes.

A third group shut down the entrance to the Qasr al-Nil Bridge from Abdel Moneim Riyadh Square, opening it at 12:30 pm before retreating back to the Ahly Club.

Ultras Ahlawy member Mohamed Samir, 18, said the ultras were reacting in anger to the acquittals of police officers in the case.

Ultras Ahlawy leaders had earlier called on its members gathering before the Ahly Club gates to leave and postpone their protests until later, due to the high presence of media before the club.

They chanted “today … today,” referring to threats to block roads and Cairo metro lines, as well as to “paralyze the whole country,” according to an earlier statement.

The initial euphoria that prevailed among the ultras as the death sentences for 21 defendants in the Port Said case were upheld gave way to silence, then anger, after news of the acquittal went around.

A group leader had said earlier that the utlras were still mulling a response to the acquittals.

Saeed al-Badry Farghaly, a former MP representing Port Said described the upheld death sentences as "political and void."

“Judges are not angels. We will not surrender and will resort to Court of Cassation,” he said.
“The ruling is null,” Farghaly told Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr satellite TV channel Saturday. “The ruling is political, not legal. They wanted to victimize Port Said residents for the Ultras Ahlawy.”

“We will challenge the ruling before the Court of Cassation. We will not be prey to anyone whoever he was. We seek achieving justice," he added.

Ultras supporting Port Said’s Masry Club, the Ultras Green Eagles, issued a statement Saturday slamming a decision by the Port Said Criminal Court upholding death sentences for 21 local supporters of the team.

“If you want death penalties, give people death penalties and let them calm down. If you want Interior Ministry figures [to] be brought to trial, give them sentences and let people calm down,” the group said in a Facebook post.

“It’s a politicized judiciary to let one party, which the regime fears, calm down. Let the regime know that Port Said is not a scapegoat to satisfy one party on the expense of a city, that is believed to be a small, attainable one,” it added.

The group also called on its members to gather at 12 pm in front of the Port Said to decide their next moves.

Former head of the Port Said Security Directorate, Essam Samak, one of nine policemen accused in the case, was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Another nine defendants received a similar sentence. 

Meanwhile, another policeman, Mohamed Saad, was sentenced to life. According to the prosecution's investigations, Saad was on duty at the stadium when the massacre happened and had closed the emergency door of the stadium from the side where the Ultras Ahlawy were sitting right before the match ended, preventing them from fleeing when the Masry ultras attacked.

The rest of the nine policemen accused in the case were all acquitted. 

Six other defendants received 10-year jail sentences and two defendants received five years. One defendant received one year in prison.

Abdel Meguid, had sentenced 21 of the defendants to death earlier this year on 26 January. The ruling is still being reviewed by the grand mufti, a standard procedure with death sentences. 

The ruling prompted a state of anger and chaos in Port Said, where families of the defendants called the ruling unfair and biased toward Cairo's Ahly club fans, whose colleagues were those killed after the match with their adversary, Port Said's Masry club. 

The Suez Canal governorate has ever since been in a constant state of instability, with ongoing clashes between protesters and police. The city also announced a state of civil disobedience days ago to express opposition to the security crackdown and the government of President Mohamed Morsy. 

On Friday, police pulled out from the city, leaving the Armed Forces with the responsibility of securing public institutions. On Saturday morning, the Armed Forces erected a concrete wall around the premises of the Interior Ministry in Port Said, in anticipation of angry reactions following the verdict.

Meanwhile, the Cairo-based Ultras Ahlawy has threatened to spread chaos if justice is not served. Hundreds of them had already congregated near the Ahly Club in Cairo ahead of the verdict. 

A full security plan was deployed ahead of the anticipated ruling in today's session. Defendants did not show up at the court, as a security measure, a source told Al-Masry Al-Youm. 

The security plan includes the deployment of 2,000 soldiers around the Police Academy where the court session will be held, as well as on the roads leading to it in Cairo and around vital state institutions, Gamal Abdel Aal, head of Criminal Investigations in Cairo, told Al-Masry Al-Youm. 

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