Egypt’s Grand Mufti has commuted the death sentence handed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Mohamed Badie, to a life sentence.
The death sentences for five others were also reduced to life on Saturday by Shawki Allam, the country’s highest religious authority. Six others were sentenced to death in absentia.
Badie and the other defendants were sentenced to death on June 19 for the killing of police officers during a protest, but the verdict was rejected by the Mufti on August 7.
In an unusual move, prosecutors had asked the religious leader to reconsider his decision.
Referring to the Grand Mufti’s earlier ruling, one of the three judges in the case said the “Mufti said that, in his opinion, the court relied solely in the case on investigations that were not alone enough to condemn the defendants”.
Egyptian law requires any capital sentence to be referred to the Grand Mufti for an opinion before any execution can take place.
‘Justice remains elusive’
“It is a massive security crackdown aimed at keeping the Muslim Brotherhood out of the political process. A few months ago the Amnesty International called the ruling a mockery of the justice,” Shahira Amin, a Cairo-based journalist, told Al Jazeera on Saturday following the announcement.
“It looks like some judges are handing down these outrageous sentences to stay in favour with the military-backed authorities and to promote their own personal interests.
“I would say that this [amendment of the sentence] is also due to street pressure. We’ve seen Muslim Brotherhood protests continue unabated, Justice remains elusive in today’s Egypt,” she said.
Badie had already received a confirmed death sentence in a separate case along with 182 supporters in a case which triggered outrage among rights groups.
The democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood-led government was ousted from power by the army last year.
The Brotherhood has since been listed as a “terrorist movement”, with much of its leadership imprisoned, including former President Mohamed Morsi.
Its supporters have held protests against the government which replaced Morsi, often resulting in clashes.
Morsi has been in jail since he was overthrown and is on trial for inciting the killing of opposition protesters in December 2012, outside the presidential palace.