Saturday, June 21, 2014 3:43 pm
MINYA- An Egyptian court confirmed Saturday death sentences for more than 180 Islamists, including Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie, after a mass trial that sparked an international outcry.
The court in the central city of Minya had initially sentenced 683 people to death, but on Saturday, it commuted death sentences of four defendants to life in prison, including two women, and acquitted 496 others, prosecutor Abdel Rahim Abdel Malik told AFP.
Since the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July last year, hundreds of his supporters and Badie himself have been sentenced to death in trials roundly criticised by human rights watchdogs.
The 183 Islamists sentenced to death on Saturday were convicted of involvement in the murder of two policemen and attempted murder of five others in Minya province on August 14, the day police killed hundreds of Morsi’s supporters during clashes in Cairo.
They were also found guilty of vandalism, attacking public property, bearing arms and joining illegal organisations, prosecutor Abdel Malik said.
Lawyers said most of those sentenced to death were still on the run.
“The defence lawyers were unable to attend the trial and defend their clients. The court violated the defendants’ rights of defence and gave its decision quickly,” said one of them, Mohammed Tosson, adding they intended to appeal.
Journalists had also been barred from attending the trial.
The court’s decision on Saturday, came after it referred its initial ruling in April to Egypt’s top Islamic scholar, as required under the country’s legal system.
In March, the same court reduced to life in prison 492 of 529 death sentences handed out to another batch of Morsi supporters.
Outside the court on Saturday, families of defendants appeared confused as they tried to understand the details of the verdict, as masked policemen stood guard.
“Allah revealed the truth. Allah acquitted my brother,” a man whose brother was one of those acquitted by the court told AFP.
– ‘Judicial system broken’-
The mass trial comes amid an intense crackdown on Morsi’s supporters that has seen more than 1,400 people killed in street clashes with police since his ouster, while over 15,000 have been jailed.
The crackdown has extended to secular-leaning dissidents also who supported Morsi’s overthrow but turned on the military-installed regime that ruled before ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected president last month.
Badie, the Brotherhood’s spiritual guide, was this week handed a death sentence by another court that accused him and 13 others of inciting violence that killed 10 people near Al-Istiqama’s mosque in the Giza neighbourhood of Cairo after Morsi’s ouster.
The initial death sentences by the court in Minya had triggered an international outcry, although the authorities defended them by insisting they had been issued only after “careful” consideration and saying were subject to appeal.
“The verdicts in this case provide the latest example of the Egyptian judiciary’s bid to crush dissent,” Amnesty International’s Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said in a statement.
“Clearly, Egypt’s judicial system is broken and no longer able to deliver justice. The death penalty is being ruthlessly deployed as a tool to eliminate political opponents.”
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former field marshal, won last month’s presidential election riding on a wave of popularity after he led the ouster of Morsi.
Rights activists, however, fear that under his presidency Egypt could see autocracy worse than under Mubarak.
Sisi has signalled that he intends to return Egypt to stability rather than encouraging democratic freedoms.