CAIRO – An Egyptian judge sentenced 529 supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi to death Monday in an unprecedented verdict that shocked the nation and dashed any hopes that Egypt’s capricious judicial system would render justice to government opponents.
The case now goes before Egypt’s supreme religious authority, the Grand Mufti, the senior Islamic scholar here, for approval or rejection. It also will be reviewed by an appeals court, with both lawyers and other observers saying they expected the sentence would be overturned, as often happens in Egypt.
That did little, however, to ease the shock that swept across Egypt when the verdict was announced. While police brutality, torture and unfair verdicts are common practice in Egypt, a death sentence is not.
In its daily briefing with reporters, the U.S. State Department said it was “pretty shocked” by the ruling, which it said “defies logic,” and that U.S. officials would raise the case with Egyptian officials.
“There is no place for politically motivated convictions in a country that is moving toward democracy,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.
The verdict was handed down in Minya, a province in the middle of Egypt that is home to more Christians than any other province. The 529 defendants, who ranged in age from 20 to 40, were charged with killing a police officer, attempting to kill two others and destroying property when a mob stormed a police station last summer, when tensions over Morsi’s ouster were at their height. Much of the violence had been aimed at Christians, whom Morsi’s supporters blamed for contributing to Morsi’s downfall. Hundreds of churches nationwide were attacked, and Minya was particularly devastated by the violence.
Judge Youssef Sabri rendered his verdict, just two days after the case began Saturday, without hearing the evidence against the defendants or allowing the more than 100 lawyers involved in the case to offer a defense.