CAIRO – The Egyptian judge who oversaw mass death sentence cases against Islamist supporters of the country's ousted president, drawing world criticism, has been removed from his criminal court, officials and the judge himself told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Judge Said Youssef, who led two high profile cases in southern city of Minya, told the AP he was notified on Sunday that he was removed from "criminal judiciary" to "civilian judiciary."
"I was notified while I was looking into cases," Youssef said. He added that his court, known as the "terrorism court" and assigned to look into cases linked to violence and acts of terror, had been "dismantled." He declined to elaborate.
Youssef's court appeared to be the only one dismantled.
The move looks like a demotion for Youssef. According to the el-Shorouk daily newspaper, removal from the court is an exceptional measure which only takes place in two cases: either the judge has been associated to an act that is damaging to his reputation or that he was investigated by a special committee which ruled that he was no longer capable of overseeing criminal court cases.
Other officials, including a top judicial official, corroborated Youssef's account.
Said was condemned when he sentenced to death more than 1,200 people in two mass trials. The number of death sentences, initially the most in recent memory anywhere in the world, was later reduced to more than 200. Most of the defendants were charged with murder, attempted murder, joining an outlawed group aiming at toppling the regime and stealing government weapons in connection with the attack last August in the town of Matay and el-Adawa, south of Cairo. Police officers were killed in the attacks.
The cases are rooted in the violent attacks on police stations and killing of police officers in August 2013 in revenge for security forces raiding two Islamists' sit-ins in Cairo that left hundreds dead and sparked days of unrest. Protesters were demanding the reinstatement of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group.
The military led the ouster of Morsi in July after mass demonstrations against him and his supporters staged near-daily demonstrations demanding his reinstatement. Some 22,000 people have been arrested since Morsi's ouster, including most of the Brotherhood's top leaders as well as large numbers of others swept up by police during pro-Morsi protests.