Cairo (CNN) — A 3-year-old Egyptian boy has been sentenced to life in prison for a crime he allegedly committed when he was 16 months old.
In what appears to be a bizarre case of mistaken identity, a military court last week found Ahmed Mansour Qorany Sharara — and 115 others — guilty of killing three people and sabotaging public and private property.
The crimes allegedly took place during a January 2014 protest by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsy and ensuing clashes in the southern province of Fayyoum, according to a statement by the Egyptian military.
Ahmed was 16 months old when the demonstration took place. He was just a little over 3 years old when the military court sentenced him to life last week.
The boy was also sentenced to additional three years for related charges by a civilian misdemeanor court.
Father on the run
When the police first came to arrest Ahmed in early 2014 and realized he was a toddler, they took his father — Mansour Qorany Sharara — instead.
Sharara was detained for four months before a judge released him.
Lawyers of other defendants in the case had shown the court Ahmed’s birth certificate in hopes of discrediting the investigations that led to their clients’ arrests.
“Security submitted their investigations 24 hours after the incident took place, naming 116 defendants,” lawyer Mahmoud Abu Kaf told CNN.
“We wanted to tell the judge that these are invalid investigations and our proof is the inclusion of the child and a man — who was out of the country when the incident in question took place — among the defendants,” Kaf added.
The guilty verdict that came out on February 16 caused an uproar.
“How could people trust justice if they see this?” TV presenter Wael El-Ebrashy said as he interviewed Sharara on Saturday.
Ahmed was sleeping as his father held him and cried, pleading for help during the interview. Sharara said he was worried his son would be imprisoned.
Officials offered different explanations.
An aide to the Interior Minister phoned Ebrashy’s show to say it was a case of mistaken identity.
The aide, General Abu Bakr Abdel-Karim, promised that Ahmed and his father would not be jailed.
But during the interview, Ahmed’s mother Hemat Mostafa phoned to say the police had just left their home after inquiring about Ahmed and his father.
The military released a statement the following day saying the person wanted in the case was a 16-year-old with the same name as Ahmed, who had fled authorities.
“If it is true that it was a mistaken identity, why did they come to arrest the boy? Why haven’t security arrested the right defendant then?” lawyer Abu Kaf said.
Mass sentencing has become a common occurrence in Egyptian civilian and military courts. In cases of street demonstrations or clashes, hundreds are usually arrested and charged.
In 2014, over a thousand were sentenced to death in two cases involving the deaths of two police officers during protests. The sentences were later reduced to life sentences to most of the defendants.
“Most cases involving big events are based on investigations and no tangible evidence. We’ve seen cases where defendants were either deceased years before the incident or in prison when it happened,” Abu Kaf said.
CNN’s Sarah El Sirgany reported from Cairo, Egypt, and Susannah Cullinane wrote from Auckland, New Zealand.