MINYA, Egypt (AP) — The Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader and over 180 others were sentenced to death Saturday by an Egyptian court in the latest mass trial following last year’s overthrow of the country’s Islamist president.
The ruling by the southern Minya Criminal Court is the largest confirmed mass death sentence to be handed down in Egypt in recent memory and comes from Judge Said Youssef, who earlier presided over the mass trial. It is the second death sentence for the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie since the crackdown against his group began.
The court acquitted more than 400 others in the case and family members of the accused wailed or cheered the verdicts.
The case stems from an attack on a police station in the town of el-Adwa near the southern city of Minya on Aug. 14 which killed one police officer and one civilian. Similar revenge attacks swept across Egypt following a security force crackdown on Cairo sit-ins supporting toppled President Mohammed Morsi that killed hundreds. The charges in the case ranged from murder, joining a terrorist organization, sabotage, possession of weapons and terrorizing civilians.
Initially, Youssef sentenced some 683 people to death over the attack, then sent the case to Egypt’s Grand Mufti, the country’s top spiritual leader. The Mufti offered his opinion, then sent the case back to Youssef to confirm his sentence.
Lawyers for the accused said they planned to appeal. Of the initial 683, all but 110 were tried in absentia, a defense lawyer said, meaning they will receive new trials once apprehended as guaranteed by Egyptian law.
The mass trials have drawn worldwide rebuke. However, the trials have continued with many Egyptians appearing to approve of the heavy-handed measures as a way to end the turmoil roiling their country since its 2011 revolt against autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
“There has been an excess in using the death sentences recently, which will only lead to more violence in society because people are now used to the idea of execution, killing and blood,” prominent rights lawyer Negad el-Borai said. “Politically this will lead to nowhere. Socially, this will lead to more violence. Legally, I am against the death sentences to begin with.”
Saturday’s hearing lasted for less than 15 minutes, a security official said. Only 75 prisoners were brought to a prison attached to the court but didn’t attend the session. Badie, held in a Cairo prison, did not attend, the official said.
Youssef arrived to the court in an armored vehicle and security officials escorted him inside.
When the verdicts were announced, female relatives to those who were acquitted ululated, clapped and chanted the pro-military slogan: “The army and the people are one hand.” Those whose relatives received death sentences screamed in grief and shouted insults to the brother of the police officer slain in the Aug. 14 attack. Many chanted: “God is our support.”