CAIRO –– A court sentenced 11 men to death today for their part in Egypt’s worst violence at a soccer stadium, in which more than 70 fans were killed in 2012.
Many of the dead were crushed when panicked fans tried to escape from the Port Said Stadium after a post-match pitch invasion by supporters of the local side al-Masry. Others fell or were thrown from terraces, witnesses said at the time. More than 1,000 were injured.
The court, whose session was televised live, sentenced one of the men to death in absentia. Ten men got 15 years in jail, 14 were sentenced to ten years, and 15 men received a five-year sentence. The charges included murder and attempted murder.
Twenty-one people were found innocent. The verdicts can be appealed. Among those who received a five-year sentence was the former Port Said police chief.
The judge had referred the death sentence in April to Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, the country’s most senior religious authority, in a step required by law for convictions in capital cases.
Judge Mohammed al-Saeed told Reuters that the mufti approved the 11 defendants’ death sentences.
Yasser Sayed Ahmed, a lawyer for the family of one of the victims hailed the ruling as “extremely fair and satisfactory”.
Soccer matches are often a flashpoint for violence in Egypt. The teams in the Port Said incident –– al-Masry and Cairo’s al-Ahli –– are long-time rivals. Witnesses said the rioting broke out after Cairo fans unfurled banners insulting the local team, which had won the match 3-1.
Since then Egypt has curbed the number of people allowed to attend matches, and supporters have often tried to storm stadiums they are banned from entering.
In February, at least 22 people were killed outside an stadium when security forces barred fans from entering.
Most of the casualties suffocated when the crowd stampeded after police used tear gas to clear the fans trying to force their way into a league match between two Cairo clubs, Zamalek and Enppi, doctors and witnesses said.
Fan clubs known as “Ultras” were outlawed in May. Relations between the Ultras and security forces have been tense for four years after the fans played a key role in the 18 days of street protests that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Separately, a military court sentenced 36 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to 25 years in jail in absentia, 21 others received sentences of between seven and 15 years over charges of storming a police station in Assyut and killing army and police forces, security sources said.
The events took place in 2013 after the army overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi following mass protests against his rule.
In another development, the public prosecutor’s office said the public prosecutor had ordered the release of 122 detainees held over cases related to “violence, illegal gathering and rioting”, because of lack of evidence, according to state news agency MENA.
A statement from the public prosecutor said they would be freed on the occasion of the approach of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but gave few other details.