An Egyptian court has opened and adjourned a second mass trial of 683 alleged supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s top leader, on charges of murder, incitement of violence and sabotage.
The proceedings in Minya, south of Cairo, on Tuesday, which have been adjourned until April 28, came a day after the same court handed down death sentences to 529 suspected backers of Morsi over a deadly attack on a police station.
A lawyer at the trial said sentencing would take place at the April 28 hearing, the AFP news agency reported.
Police also fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Alexandria University to protest against the mass trials, a Reuters witness said.
Monday’s verdict, in which defence lawyers were not allowed to present their case, drew wide public and international criticism.
Rights groups, the United States and the European Union expressed concern and questioned the fairness of proceedings against so many defendants lasting just two days.
Amnesty International, the UK-based rights group, said it was the biggest mass sentence given in modern Egyptian history.
The charges in Tuesday’s proceedings also stemmed from rioting last August sparked by the security forces’ storming of two Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo that killed over 600 people.
The dispersal of the protest camps came weeks after the military overthrew Morsi following days of massive protests in which millions demanded he step down for abusing power.
Only 68 of the 683 defendants were in the dock on Tuesday. The rest were being tried in absentia.
A handful of other defendants held in the case,including the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Mohammed Badie and other senior figures who are jailed in Cairo, were not present at the trial in Minya.
Meanwhile, defence teams for Monday’s trial said they would demand that the judge step down after reaching a verdict after only two sessions.
The sentences were referred to Egypt’s Grand Mufti for approval but legal expert Gamal Eid said that they would likely be overturned on appeal.
He added that the case was “a catastrophe and a travesty and a scandal that will affect Egypt for many years”.
Egypt’s army-installed interim government defended the court’s handling of the case, insisting that the sentences had been handed down only “after careful study” and were subject to appeal.
The Muslim Brotherhood said the death sentences were yet “another indication that the corrupt judiciary is being used by the coup commanders to suppress the Egyptian revolution and install a brutal regime”.
At least 1,400 people have been killed in the crackdown on Morsi’s supporters and thousands more arrested, according to Amnesty International.
Morsi is himself currently on trial in three different cases. He was toppled by the army after a single year in power following mass protests demanding his resignation.