Egypt court sentences 528 Morsi supporters to death

Defendants' relatives reacted with horror as the verdicts were announced

A court in Egypt has sentenced 528 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to death.

They were convicted of charges including murdering a policeman and attacks on people and property.

The group is among some 1,200 Muslim Brotherhood supporters on trial, including senior members.

Authorities have cracked down harshly on Islamists since Mr Morsi was removed by the military in July. Hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested.

Analysis

The speed of the case, and the severity of the outcome, are unprecedented in Egypt, according to legal sources.

In a case centred on the killing of a single police officer, more than 520 defendants have been sentenced to death, at a breathtaking pace.

The first hearing - on Saturday - was quickly adjourned. At Monday's second session, the mass death sentences were announced.

A spokesman for the banned Muslim Brotherhood said the verdict came from a "Kangaroo court". One human rights campaigner said judges had become a tool for taking revenge.

In spite of claims by officials about the independence of the judiciary, critics will see this verdict as part of the state's campaign to quash the Brotherhood.

The ruling is expected to be appealed and several legal experts are predicting a retrial.

They are expected to appeal.

The verdict now goes to Egypt's supreme religious authority, the Grand Mufti (a senior Islamic scholar), for approval or rejection.

Campaigners say that while death sentences are often handed down in Egypt, few have been carried out in recent years.

The final trial session will not be held until 28 April, so there is some time left before the sentence is confirmed and there will be time to appeal in that period, says the BBC's Orla Guerin in Cairo.

The Muslim Brotherhood has denounced death sentences and Washington expressed shock and concern.

In absentia

The court in Minya, south of the capital, Cairo, issued its ruling after only two sessions in which the defendants' lawyers complained they had no chance to present their case.

Lawyers have accused the presiding judge of "veering away from all legal norms" and denying justice to the accused, our correspondent adds.

They were convicted, among other charges, of the murder of the deputy commander of the Matay district police station in Minya.

Some 147 suspects were in court for the trial - the others were convicted in absentia, reports say.

The court also acquitted 16 other defendants.

There was shock at the verdict, Orla Guerin reports

The attacks took place in August after security forces broke up two camps of pro-Morsi supporters in Cairo, killing hundreds of people.

Mr Morsi was ousted by the military last July following mass street protests against his government. He is facing four separate trials

There has since been a severe crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood group, as well as on other activists seen as hostile to the military-backed interim government.

The Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organisation and authorities have punished any public show of support for it.

A second group of 700 Morsi supporters is due to go on trial on Tuesday.

'Dictatorship'

The Muslim Brotherhood's spokesman in London, Abdullah el-Haddad, told the BBC the sentences showed that Egypt was now a dictatorship.

Start Quote

Obviously the defendants can appeal, but it simply does not seem possible that a fair review of evidence and testimony consistent with international standards could be accomplished with over 529 defendants in a two-day trial”

End Quote Marie Harf Deputy US State Department spokeswoman

"It may be just a threat message and there will be appeals to the court and the decision of the court will change, but this is the new Egypt after the coup. This is the new dictatorship that [army chief and defence minister Field Marshal] Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is trying to establish."

Mr Haddad said the Muslim Brotherhood's general guide Mohammed Badie was among those convicted, though other reports say Mr Badie is only due in court on Tuesday.

The US government also questioned how the defendants could have had a fair trial in just two court sessions - one of which was Monday's sentencing.

"It sort of defies logic," said Marie Harf, deputy US State Department spokeswoman, adding that Washington was "deeply concerned" and "shocked".

"Obviously the defendants can appeal, but it simply does not seem possible that a fair review of evidence and testimony consistent with international standards could be accomplished with over 529 defendants in a two-day trial," she said.

Defence counsel Mohamed Tousson claimed the judge rushed to sentencing after being angered by a lawyer's request for his recusal at Saturday's opening hearing.

"He got very angry, and adjourned the trial for sentencing," Mr Tousson said, adding "It's a huge violation of defendants' rights."

Egypt's foreign ministry defended the court's handling of the trial, saying the sentences had been "issued by an independent court after careful study of the case".

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