An Egyptian court sentenced the leader of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and 682 supporters to death on Monday, reports The New York Times. The decision highlights the crackdown on the movement, and could trigger protests and political violence ahead of an election next month.
At the same time, the court finalized a verdict from last month in which over 500 members of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death after summary trials. In finalizing last month’s mass verdict, the judge in both cases, Saed Youssef, confirmed the death sentences on 37 of those defendants while commuting 492 to life in prison — understood in Egypt as a term of 25 years.
The two mass death sentences are examples of politicized verdicts supporting the new military-backed government in its sweeping crackdown against dissent, particularly from the Brotherhood.
The death sentence for Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s general guide, was given for crimes including inciting violence that followed the army overthrow of Mohammed Morsi, who is also on trial on an array of charges.
Tough measures against the Brotherhood suggest the authorities continue to see it as a major threat, even though most of its leaders and thousands of members are behind bars. The Brotherhood has an estimated one million supporters out of Egypt’s population of 85 million.
Death sentence recommendations in the case involving Badie and the 682 Brotherhood members will be passed on to Egypt’s Mufti, the highest religious authority. His opinion is non-binding, and may be ignored by the court. The rulings can be appealed. Nevertheless, many defendants are on the run.
Mass trials in the biggest Arab state have reinforced fears among human rights groups that the government and anti-Islamist judges are using all levers of power to crush opponents.
“The decisions are possibly the largest possible death sentences in recent world history. While they’re exceptional in scale, they’re certainly not exceptional in kind,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director for Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch.
“It seems that these sentences are aimed at striking fear and terror into the hearts of those who oppose the interim government.”