In the first case of its kind under Egypt’s military-backed government, a criminal court on Monday simultaneously sentenced 529 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to death, the state news agency reported.
However, the capital verdict would have to be ratified by the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s top Islamic jurist. Most of the defendants were sentenced in absentia, with about 150 of them in custody, lawyers said.
The sentence was handed down by a court in Minya, 150 miles south of Cairo, after the men were convicted on charges including attacking a police station and killing a policeman. Sixteen others tried in the case were acquitted, according to the official Middle East News Agency.
Violence erupted across Egypt in mid-August after police and soldiers moved against protest camps set up by Morsi’s followers, killing hundreds of them. Some Islamists then launched retaliatory attacks against police and against Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who were blamed by some for supporting the army’s removal of Morsi from office in July. Minya has a large Coptic community.
Draconian punishments for offenses such as taking part in a protest have become commonplace under Egypt’s nearly nine-month-old interim government. But lawyers said it was unprecedented for a court to decree the death penalty for such a large group of defendants at once.
Judicial practices under the military-led government have come under heavy criticism from human rights groups. In the Minya case, the sentencing and verdict took place after only two court sessions, and defense lawyers said they were not allowed to present their cases.
Morsi himself is on trial in Cairo, with overlapping court proceedings on a variety of charges. Several of those could carry the death penalty.