A court in Egypt convicted 529 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and sentenced them to death on charges of murdering a policeman and attacking police. The verdicts followed one of the largest mass trials in the country in decades.
More than 150 Morsi supporters actually stood trial. The majority of the defendants were tried in absentia. Sixteen suspects were acquitted. The court issued its ruling after only two sessions in which the defendants’ lawyers complained they had had no chance to present their case.
The verdicts are likely to be overturned on appeal, rights lawyers said after the trial ended in the city of Minya, south of Cairo.
“This is way over the top and unacceptable,” said attorney Mohammed Zarie, who heads a rights center in Cairo. “It turns the judiciary in Egypt from a tool for achieving justice to an instrument for taking revenge.”
The hurried mass trial indicates the determination of Egypt’s military-backed government to break the Muslim Brotherhood group and leave no room for political reconciliation with Morsi or his Islamist followers.
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 last 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.
On Tuesday, another mass trial against Morsi’s supporters opens, also 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.
Egypt’s military toppled Morsi in July after days of massive demonstrations demanding he step down for abusing power during his year in office. The military-backed government has since unleashed a wave of arrests, detaining hundreds, including top Brotherhood leaders.
The military authorities blame the Muslim Brotherhood for subsequent violence, branding it a terrorist organization and confiscating its assets.