An Egyptian court on Tuesday upheld death sentences for 11 men who participated in a 2012 riot at a soccer stadium that killed more than 70 fans and injured at least 1,000 others.
The court, whose session was televised live, sentenced one of the men to death in absentia. Ten men were also sentenced to 15 years in prison, 14 received 10-year sentences, and 15 received five years. Twenty-one defendents in the case were found innocent. The verdicts can be appealed.
The judge had referred the death sentence in April to Egypt's Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, the country's most senior religious authority, in a step required by law for convictions in capital cases. The mufti's opinion is not binding and not made public.
Yasser Sayed Ahmed, a lawyer for the family of one of the victims hailed the ruling “extremely fair and satisfactory.”
During the riot in Port Said on Sep. 2, 2012, Al-Masry fans attacked Al-Ahly supporters with knives, clubs and rocks after the match. Witnesses and survivors described victims falling from the bleachers 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. The match's TV sportscaster explained that authorities shut them off to “calm the situation.”
Among those sentenced on Tuesday were Port Said's police chief and another senior police officer, both receiving five-year prison 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 hardcore fans who have long been at odds with the nation's highly militarized 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.
Soccer matches are often a flashpoint for violence in Egypt. The teams involved in the Port Said incident – Al-Masry and Cairo's Al-Ahly – are longtime rivals. Witnesses said the rioting broke out after Cairo fans unfurled banners insulting the local team, which had won the match 3-1.
Since then Egypt has curbed the number of people allowed to attend matches and supporters have often tried to storm stadiums they are banned from entering.
In February, at least 22 people were killed outside an Egyptian soccer stadium when security forces barred fans from entering, the public prosecutor's office said at the time.
Most of the casualties suffocated when the crowd stampeded after police used tear gas to clear the fans trying to force their way into a league match between two Cairo clubs, Zamalek and Enppi, doctors and witnesses said.