Amnesty International has condemned death sentences handed down against 21 people in the Port Said football violence trial on 9 March 2013. The trials which led to the death sentences seem to be more about scapegoating a few rather than providing answers about what happened on the day of the game and the role the authorities may have played.

The organisation opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

The death sentences were handed down by the New Cairo Criminal Court, a month and a half after the court referred the case files to Egypt’s Grand Mufti for his review. Under the Code of Criminal Procedures, the Mufti must review death sentences imposed by criminal courts, but his opinion is not legally binding. Ahead of the verdict, the Mufti had reportedly requested more time to review the case but the court decided to move ahead and confirm the sentences.

Amnesty International had written to the Grand Mufti to urge him not to approve the death sentences.

Over 230 people have been sentenced to death since the “25 January Revolution” in 2011, and there was at least one execution.

In February 2012, 74 people were killed during violence at a football match between Al Ahly and Al Masry clubs in Port Said. On 9 March 2013, the New Cairo Criminal Court sentenced 21 people to death and 24 individuals to prison terms for their involvement in the violence. A further 28 of the accused were acquitted.

However, the investigation into the Port Said incident and trial were marred by reports that some of the defendants were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in detention. Amnesty International urges the Egyptian authorities to ensure any such allegations of torture or other ill-treatment are subject to an independent and impartial investigation.

Following the Port Said incident, the security forces were widely criticized for failing to prevent the violence or protect those who had been attacked. The former head of the Port Said Security Directorate and another security official were both sentenced to 15-year terms. However, seven other members of the security forces were among those acquitted by the court.

The court’s decision to refer the files of 21 of the defendants to the Mufti in January 2013 sparked unrest in the city of Port Said.

Amnesty International has documented excessive and unnecessary lethal force in the security forces’ response to the unrest – including the use of firearms when it was not strictly necessary to protect life.

Amnesty International calls on the authorities to commute without delay all death sentences.