11 sentenced to death over Egyptian football riot

One of the defendants reacts as the verdicts are announced. Picture: AP
One of the defendants reacts as the verdicts are announced. Picture: AP
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A CRIMINAL court in Egypt’s Port Said yesterday sentenced 11 people to death over a 2012 football riot in the coastal city that left more than 70 dead and several hundred injured.

The verdict, read by presiding judge Mohammed el-Said, came at the end of a retrial of 73 defendants in a case that also sparked deadly riots in 2013 in Port Said, prompting then-President Mohammed Morsi to declare a state of emergency in the city.

Also yesterday, the court sentenced 40 defendants to up to 15 years in prison and acquitted the rest.

The verdicts can be appealed.

The earlier trial ended in March 2013 when 21 defendants were sentenced to death, while others received jail terms that ranged from one to 25 years in prison. Twenty-eight were acquitted. The rulings were appealed and a retrial was ordered by Egypt’s Court of Cassation in February last year.

The February 2012 riot began at the end of a league match in Port Said between Cairo’s Al-Ahly, Egypt’s most successful club, and home side Al-Masry.

The riot, Egypt’s worst and among the world’s deadliest, led to the temporary suspension of Egypt’s top flight football league. The league later resumed, but with matches played in empty stadiums.

The first Egyptian Premier League game in which fans were allowed back into the stadiums was played in February this year, but that occasion was also marred by the death of 22 fans in a stampede outside the ground. The stampede followed the use of tear gas by police to stop what authorities at the time said was an attempt by fans to storm the military-owned stadium in a suburb east of Cairo.

In the Port Said incident on 2 February, 2012, Al-Masry fans attacked Al-Ahly supporters with knives, clubs and rocks after the match. Witnesses and survivors described victims falling from the stands as they tried to escape. Hundreds of others fled into an exit passage, only to be crushed against a locked gate with their rivals attacking from behind.

At one point, the stadium lights went out, plunging it into darkness. A TV commentator explained that authorities shut them off to “calm the situation.”

Among those sentenced yesterday were Port Said’s police chief and another senior police officer, both receiving five-year jail sentences. Al-Masry’s executive director Mohsen Shettah and a stadium official in charge of the lighting were also sentenced to five years in prison.

Most of the victims of the 2012 riot belonged to Al-Ahly’s “Ultras,” an association of hard-core fans who have long been at odds with the nation’s highly militarised police, taunting them with offensive slogans during matches and fighting them in street battles.

Hardcore fans of other clubs also identify themselves by variations on the Ultras name.

Ultras members have been credited with playing a major role in the 18-day popular uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.