MINYA, Egypt – The Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader and more than 680 other people were sentenced to death Monday stemming from last year’s post-coup violence in the latest mass trial that was denounced in the West and by human rights groups as contrary to the rule of law.
The sentences for the 683 defendants were announced by Judge Said Youssef at a court session in the southern city of Minya that lasted only eight minutes.
The verdicts are not final and are expected to be overturned. Under the law, once the defendants who were tried in absentia turn themselves in – which is all but 63 of the accused – their trials will start over.
The mass trials were linked to riots in which supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi allegedly attacked police stations and churches in retaliation for security forces violently breaking up Cairo sit-ins by Islamists in August that left hundreds dead. The defendants in Monday’s trial are part of a group of nearly 1,000 who were implicated in the deaths of three policemen and a civilian, as well as others who were injured.
Youssef said he was referring the death sentences – which followed convictions for the violence – to the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s top Islamic official. The move is a legal requirement that is usually considered a formality, but it also allows the judge to change his mind.
Youssef also reduced the sentences against 529 defendants from a mass trial at which he presided in March. He upheld the death penalty for 37 of them – an extraordinarily high number under Egyptian law – and commuted the rest to life imprisonment. The death sentences are being appealed by the prosecutor general.
Monday’s court action drew international outcry.
Amnesty International said it feared the judiciary is “becoming just another part of the authorities’ repressive machinery, issuing sentences of death and life imprisonment on an industrial scale.”
Washington called for the rulings to be reversed.
“The United States is deeply concerned by today’s Egyptian court actions related to another mass trial and preliminary death sentences as well as the banning of the April 6 youth movement activities,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.