AFRICANGLOBE – In what is being called the biggest capital punishment verdict by Egypt’s judiciary, 529 supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi have been sentenced to death.
The condemned were convicted of killing a policeman, attacking others and destroying property.
The sentencing, believed to be the biggest mass death dentencing in history, came after just two court sessions and before the defendants lawyers say they were permitted to make their case.
The majority was condemned in absentia, with fewer than 200 of those on trial in court, 16 suspects were acquitted.
An appeal is permitted, and given the rushed circumstances of the trial, human rights and legal experts believe the verdict is unlikely to stand.
Even members of the government-linked National Council for Human Rights condemned the verdict. Member Nasser Amin wrote on Twitter the court ruling “will be overturned as soon as the defendants demand a retrial.”
Other legal rights advocates described it as a “disaster” and a “scandal.”
Many of those on trial were arrested during fighting in the southern province of Minya, where the trial was held, after security forces dispersed Muslim Brotherhood protest camps last August in Cairo.
Hundreds, possibly more, died in the crackdown, most of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader.
Thousands of Morsi supporters have been jailed since.
Caught up in the crackdown are several journalists, including Australian journalist Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, of the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network.
They are on trial in a Cairo court charged with aiding what the government considers the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.
The defendants deny the charges, saying they were simply reporting the news.
Greste’s brother Mike Greste was at the court where the trial continued Monday.
“We do not believe the prosecution will be able to present any evidence to substantiate the charges and more importantly, I am hoping another court date is set down sooner rather than later,” he said.
The men were arrested late last year in a case that has attracted denunciations from media rights groups and others around the world.
Monday’s court proceedings come as Egyptian officials say the campaign for a permanent replacement for Morsi, himself on trial in several other court cases, will begin in the coming days.
Egyptian officials have put strong restrictions on media coverage, leaving Egyptian news dominated by praise of the military-backed government, in particular Defense Minister and widely assumed future presidential candidate General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
Anger over Morsi’s one year in power remains high among many Egyptians, who blame him and his Brotherhood supporters for their often violent exclusion from Egypt’s political process and attempting to impose a narrowly-based Islamist rule.
“The Brotherhood decided to step out of the process you know; it is they who should be asked to be inclusive,” said political commentator Hisham Kassem.
By: Elizabeth Arrott