Egypt to rule in mass death sentence case

Court to pass final judgement on 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters who were sentenced to death last month.

The court will also issue verdicts on another 683 people accused of violence last year in Minya [Reuters]

An Egyptian court is to pass its final judgment on 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters sentenced to death last month, in a case that has provoked outrage among Western governments and rights groups.

On Monday, the court will also issue verdicts on another 683 people accused of violence last year in Minya, including Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s General Guide, or top leader.

He is charged with crimes including inciting violence that followed the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last July. The session could mark the first major verdict against any Brotherhood leader.

The preliminary death sentences were issued on March 24, just two days after the mass trial began, and relate to violence in which a policeman was killed in August in the southern province of Minya.

The United States and European Union said they were “appalled” at the ruling. The trial had only one session – a one-hour hearing in which lawyers for the defence were prevented from presenting arguments, and the prosecution offered no evidence, rights groups say.

Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters and members of the security forces have been killed in political violence and thousands of Islamists and some secular dissidents jailed by authorities since Morsi’s ouster.

Trial in absentia

After imposing the preliminary death sentences, judge Saeed Yousef referred his ruling to the state mufti, Egypt’s highest religious authority. His non-binding opinion is always sought in cases of capital punishment.

Were Yousef to uphold his death sentences, the subsequent appeals process could result in lesser penalties. Most of those convicted are not in detention and were tried in absentia, with 147 in court.

“Tomorrow’s verdict is happening after a speedy trial where the rights of defendants were grossly disrespected,” said Diana Eltahawy, director of the criminal justice unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

On Sunday, judicial sources said around 60 other Brotherhood supporters were sentenced for crimes linked to protests, such as obstructing traffic and using violence against the police.

Two thirds of them were sentenced in Minya by judge Yousef. He also jailed 13 Brotherhood supporters to between five and 65 years on Saturday for similar crimes.

The same judge is due to rule in the case against the 70-year-old Badie, accused of inciting violence that led to the killing of another policeman in Minya.

Egypt’s biggest political party until last year, the Brotherhood has been outlawed and driven underground.

The army-backed government accuses the Brotherhood of turning to violence. The group denies the accusation.

The United States and European Union urged Egypt “to restore the rule of law” after last month’s mass death sentences.

Former army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who led the overthrow of Morsi, is expected to easily win a May 26-27 presidential election. The coalition of Brotherhood-allied Islamist parties announced in a statement they would boycott the election, describing it as “a farce”.

Source: Reuters