Egypt Court Upholds Football Riot Death Sentences

An Egyptian court Tuesday upheld death sentences against 11 football fans over a February 2012 riot in the eastern city of Port Said that cost the lives of 74 people.

The riot, the country's deadliest sports-related unrest, broke out when fans of home team Al-Masry and Cairo's Al-Ahly clashed after a premier league match between the two clubs.

A Cairo criminal court confirmed the sentences handed down in April against 11 Al-Masry fans, one of whom is a fugitive, after consulting the grand mufti, the government interpreter of Islamic law who plays an advisory role.

The court also sentenced two police officers, including then Port Said police chief Essam Samak, and two Al-Masry club officials to five years in jail.

Twenty-one defendants, including seven police officers and one an Al-Masry official, were acquitted. The remainder were handed jail terms of between one and 15 years.

Tuesday's sentence can still be appealed before the cassation court.

Families of the victims expressed dismay after the verdict.

"They acquitted the police who planned everything. They were the ones who locked up our children in the stadium," said a crying mother wearing a T-shirt with her sons picture on it.

"This is an unfair ruling... They are laughing at the people," the father of another victim grievingly said.

An appeals court had ordered a retrial in February 2014, after rejecting an initial verdict sentencing 21 people to death.

The clashes sparked several days of violent protests in Cairo, in which another 16 people were killed in fighting with security forces.

Dozens of people also died in clashes in the Suez Canal city after the 21 death sentences were handed down.

Ultras -- hardcore football supporters usually blamed by the authorities for violence -- were at the forefront of the 2011 uprising that unseated president Hosni Mubarak. A court in May banned ultras fan clubs.

After the 2012 clashes, the government ordered premier league matches be held behind closed doors.

The ban was partially lifted in 2015, but a stampede outside a Cairo stadium killed 19 fans on the first day games were open to the public.

The prosecution has charged 16 people in connection with that incident, blaming it on ultras and on the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Source: Agence France Presse

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