State Dept. 'Pretty Shocked' by Egypt's Death Sentences for 529 Muslim Brotherhood Supporters

The State Department lashed out at Cairo today for the 529 death sentences handed down to Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the murder of a police commander.

Mostafa El-Attar, deputy commander of the Matay district police station, suffered a head injury as rioters surrounded his police station. News crews in the area showed angry protesters trying to attack him even as he was dying.

Sixteen defendants were acquitted of murder charges after it was proven they helped save another officer's life, Al-Ahram reported.

The Brotherhood claimed only 22 of those sentenced are members of their group.

"We are deeply concerned, and I would say actually pretty shocked, by the sentencing to death of 529 Egyptians related to the death of one policeman, as well as the spate of violence against police stations and security personnel in the aftermath of the clearing of two squares in mid-August. It's our understanding that over half of those convictions were in absentia. Obviously, the defendants can appeal, but it simply does not seem possible that a fair review of evidence and testimony, consistent with international standards, could be accomplished with over 529 defendants in a two-day trial. It sort of defies logic," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters today.

"So we have continued to call on the Egyptian government to ensure that those detained are afforded fair proceedings that respect civil liberties and, as we've said many, many, many times, that the appearance of politically motivated arrests, detentions and convictions will just continue to move Egypt's democratic transition backwards and not forwards, like we hope it does."

When asked if the administration was just shocked or "outraged" to the point of taking action, Harf replied, "Well, what action are you suggesting we take?"

"We're talking to the Egyptian government. We're trying to ascertain all the facts here. Obviously, as I said, it's a pretty shocking number. But we're gathering all the facts and determining what we do going forward. Our policy towards Egypt, all along, since July, has been governed by a few principles. One is that it's an important relationship. The second is that we don't want to completely cut off the relationship, as you saw when we made the decision about aid," Harf said.

"The second is that there are principles that we stand up for that include things like right to free and fair trial, that we will continue pushing with the Egyptian government. And the third is that we will engage with all parties and all groups in Egypt to make sure that as their democratic transition moves forward, it's done so in an inclusive manner."

She added "I don't know if they're serious" about carrying through the death sentences, which will now be appealed.

"I don't want to describe motives here or motivations here. What we've said is that everybody needs to be given a trial in accordance of international standards, and that politically -- there's no place for politically motivated arrests, detentions, convictions in a country that's moving towards democracy."