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Egypt sentences 529 Islamists to death

By Agencies in Cairo (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-25 08:36

Court issues verdicts on supporters of theMuslim Brotherhood after two-day trial

A court in Egypt has convicted 529 supporters of former president Mohammed Morsi and sentenced them to death on charges of murdering a policeman and attacking police in one of the largest mass trials in the country in decades.

The majority of the defendants, who were supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, were tried in absentia while more than 150 stood trial in unprecedentedly rushed hearings that lasted only two days. Sixteen suspects were acquitted.

The verdicts - and the harsh sentences - are likely to be overturned on appeal, rights lawyers said after the trial ended in Minya, south of Cairo.

"The court has decided to sentence to death 529 defendants, and 16 were acquitted," said lawyer Ahmed al-Sharif. The ruling can be appealed.

The charges against the group, on trial in Minya since Saturday, included violence, inciting murder, storming a police station, attacking persons and damaging public and private property.

"This is the quickest case and the number sentenced to death is the largest in the history of the judiciary," said lawyer Nabil Abdel Salam, who defends some Brotherhood leaders including Morsi.

Following the sentence, supporters torched a nearby school in protest, state-run Nile TV said without reporting any casualties.

The verdict can be appealed at the Court of Cassation, which would probably order a new trial or reduce the sentences, said Khalid el-Komy, one on the defendant's lawyers.

The court decision is "null in all procedures," added the lawyer, deeming it as "blow on the head of the judiciary". How can a court issued final decision in such a big case in just two sessions, he wondered.

State television reported the sentences without comment. A government spokesman did not immediately respond to calls.

The mass nature of the trial testifies to the determination of Egypt's government to break the Muslim Brotherhood group and leave no room for political reconciliation with the country's largest Islamist bloc, from which Morsi hails.

The court in Minya issued its ruling after only two sessions in which the defendants' lawyers complained they did not have a chance to present their case. A total of 545 suspects were charged with the killing of a police officer, attempted killing of two others, attacking a police station and other acts of violence in August.

The rioting was a backlash for the Aug 14 police crackdown on two pro-Morsi sit-in camps in Cairo, which killed hundreds of people and sparked days of unrest across the country.

Egypt's military toppled Morsi in July, after four days of massive demonstrations by his opponents demanding he step down for abusing power during his year in office.

Since the ouster and the August dispersal of the Cairo sit-ins, Morsi's Brotherhood and other Islamist supporters have staged near-daily demonstrations that usually descend into violent street confrontations with security forces. The military-backed government unleashed a wave of arrests, detaining hundreds, including top Brotherhood leaders.

At the same time, militant bombings, suicide attacks and other assaults - mostly by an al-Qaida-inspired group - have increasingly targeted police and military forces in retaliation for the crackdown on Islamists.

The authorities have blamed the Brotherhood for the violence, branding it a terrorist organization and confiscating its assets. The group has denied any links to the attacks and has denounced the violence.

On Tuesday, another mass trial against Morsi's supporters opens in Minya, with 683 suspects facing similar charges. The defendants in that case include Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, who also faces multiple other trials, and senior members of the group from Minya.

AP-xinhua-Reuters

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