Middle East

Egypt's Sisi vows tougher laws after prosecutor's killing

Abdul Fattah al-Sisi addresses the funeral of public prosecutor Hisham Barakat in Cairo (30 June 2015) Image copyright AP
Image caption Abdul Fattah al-Sisi (right) was visibly angry when addressing the funeral of Hisham Barakat in Cairo

Egypt's president has vowed to enact legal reforms so death sentences can be enforced more swiftly, a day after the assassination of the public prosecutor.

At the funeral of Hisham Barakat, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi complained that the hand of justice was shackled by the law.

He promised to unveil changes within days to allow death sentences to be implemented as soon as possible.

Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members, including ousted President Mohammed Morsi, have been sentenced to death.

As public prosecutor, Mr Barakat referred thousands to trial after the military overthrew Mr Morsi in 2013 and launched a crackdown on the Islamist movement.

The Brotherhood has denied any responsibility for Monday's car bomb attack on Mr Barakat's convoy in a suburb of the capital, Cairo.

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Media captionThere was devastation at the blast site, as the BBC's Sebastian Usher explains

Analysts say the killing bears the hallmarks of a jihadist group based in the Sinai peninsula that has pledged its allegiance to Islamic State and shot dead two judges and a prosecutor in May.

On Tuesday, another car bomb near a police station in Cairo's western suburb of 6 October City killed three people.

'Not going to wait'

In his address at the prosecutor's funeral on Tuesday, Mr Sisi promised to take a tougher line against militants, who have killed at least 600 police and armed forces personnel in the past two years.

"The hand of justice is shackled by the law. We're not going to wait for this," he said. "We're going to amend the law to allow us to implement justice as soon as possible."

The president did not give details of his planned reforms, but suggested that he might seek to change the appeals process.

"A death sentence will be issued, a death sentence will be implemented. A life sentence will be issued, a life sentence will be implemented," he said.

Although hundreds of people have been sentenced to death by courts in Egypt since the overthrow of Mr Morsi - many of them after summary mass trials which the UN said were "rife with procedural irregularities" - only seven have been executed, according to the AFP news agency.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A protester set fire to a picture of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at the funeral

Currently, all death sentences have to be sent to the grand mufti, Egypt's highest religious authority, for his opinion on whether they should stand. But even when the cleric gives his approval, convictions are still subject to a lengthy appeals process.

The newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm cited judicial sources as saying that Mr Sisi would consider amendments to the criminal procedure code that would allow judges to choose which witnesses were heard in court.

The amendments could also make verdicts of the Supreme State Security Court subject only to the president's ratification without appeal, and give the Court of Cassation - the highest appeal court - only one round of review instead of two, the newspaper said.

"The assassination of the prosecutor general is a serious crime, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice in a fair and transparent way," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

"This killing is a wake-up call for Egypt's leaders, who should begin to unwind the country's worsening cycle of violence by returning to the rule of law and halting the crackdown that has eroded basic freedoms rather than speeding it up."