11 given death penalty over Egyptian football riot

A defendant holds a Quran in a courtroom cage as a judge issues a verdict in a case involving violence by soccer fans in Port Said. Picture: AP
A defendant holds a Quran in a courtroom cage as a judge issues a verdict in a case involving violence by soccer fans in Port Said. Picture: AP
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eleven football fans have been sentenced to death by an Egyptian court after a retrial of more than 70 defendants accused over a soccer riot in 2012 that left 74 people dead.

Judge Mohammed el-Said said his final ruling for the 11 and the other defendants, including nine police officers, would come on 30 May – all death sentences in Egypt require the advisory opinion of the country’s top religious authority, the Grand Mufti.

Some 21 fans were initially sentenced to death and seven police officers acquitted in 2013, setting off violent protests by fans in Cairo who torched a police club and the soccer federation’s headquarters.

Earlier protests outside the prison in the city of Port Said where the defendants were held resulted in violent clashes with police that left 40 protesters dead.

None of the families of the victims or defendants attended the court session yesterday, which was held in Cairo for security reasons. The verdict can be appealed against.

The 2012 Port Said riots were the deadliest sport-related violence in Egypt, where fans regularly fight among themselves or with security forces.

Football matches are often a flashpoint for violence in the country, but the Port Said incident was Egypt’s worst ever football disaster with at least 1,000 people injured as well as the 74 killed.

Many of those who died were crushed when panicked fans tried to escape from the stadium after a post-match pitch invasion by supporters of local side al-Masry. Others fell or were thrown from terraces, witnesses said.

In February this year, the Egyptian authorities suspended football league matches indefinitely after at least 22 fans were killed in clashes with police at a Cairo stadium.

In that tragedy, people were crushed in a stampede after police fired tear gas at supporters of Zamalek, who were trying to gain entry to a match against city rivals ENPPI.

The fans blamed police for forcing them through a narrow, fenced-in passageway.

President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi expressed “great sorrow” over the deaths and promised an investigation.

The Egyptian Premier League had been suspended following the Port Said tragedy. The league resumed the following year, but supporters were banned from attending matches until last December. Since then, limited numbers have been allowed into stadiums.

State media reported that only 5,000 tickets had been made available for sale to the public for this February’s match between Zamalek and ENPPI at the 30,000-capacity Air Defence Stadium in the east of the capital.

But thousands of ticketless Zamalek fans reportedly tried to gain entry anyway.