CAIRO –International condemnations have started flowing against a decision by an Egyptian court on Monday, March 24, to sentence 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death, the verdict deemed as the largest mass death sentence in modern history..
“While appeals are possible, it simply does not seem possible that a fair review of evidence and testimony consistent with international standards could be accomplished with over 529 defendants after a two-day trial,” a US State Department official was quoted by Agence France Presse (AFP).
The controversial sentence, issued on Monday morning, was delivered in the second hearing of a trial which began on Saturday in Minya, south of the capital.
Of those sentenced, 153 are in detention and the rest are on the run, the sources said, adding that 17 others were acquitted.
The sentenced include the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr Mohamed Badee` and the Mohamed Saad El-Katatni, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
"When the trial starts on Saturday and it is just a procedural hearing, and the judge doesn't listen to any lawyers or witnesses and doesn't even call the defendants, you are before a group of thugs and not the judiciary," Walid, a relative of one of the defendants, told Reuters over the phone.
The charges against the group include violence, inciting murder, storming a police station, attacking persons and damaging public and private property.
Those sentenced are among more than 1,200 Morsi supporters on trial in Minya. A second group of 700 Morsi supporters is due to go on trial on Tuesday.
Defense counsel Mohamed Tousson charged that the judge had rushed to sentencing on Monday after being angered by a lawyer's request for his recusal at Saturday's opening hearing.
"He got very angry, and adjourned the trial for sentencing," Tousson said.
"It's a huge violation of defendants' rights."
State television reported the sentences without comment.
After the sentence, family members stood outside the courthouse screaming, objecting to the verdict, deemed as the biggest mass death sentence handed out in Egypt's modern history.
Execution of Justice
The court decision was met by immediate condemnations from the opposition and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
On the Brotherhood’s official website, the group responded by calling for the "downfall of military rule".
Mohamed Mahsoub, who served as minister of legal affairs under deposed President Mohamed Morsi, described the court's decision "a ruling calling for the execution of justice" on his Facebook page.
Amnesty International said it was the "largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world," and called for it to be quashed.
Legal expert Gamal Eid said that the judgment can be appealed at the Court of Cassation, which would probably order a new trial or reduce the sentences.
“This sentencing is a catastrophe and a travesty and a scandal that will affect Egypt for many years,” Eid, who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told AFP.
The sentences came days before army chief Field Marshall Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was expected to declare his candidacy in presidential elections.
Being the only name suggested so far, Sisi is widely expected to win.
"This is the quickest case and the number sentenced to death is the largest in the history of the judiciary," said lawyer Nabil Abdel Salam, who defends some Brotherhood leaders including Morsi.
The verdict was sent to the grand mufti, Egypt's highest religious authority, for consideration, a judicial source said. The mufti's opinion is not binding.
The foreign ministry defended the court's handling of the trial, saying that the sentences had been "issued by an independent court after careful study of the case".
It said the Egyptian judiciary was "entirely independent and is not influenced in any way by the executive branch of government".
HA Hellyer, an Egypt expert and fellow at American think-tank the Brookings Institution, said he doubted the sentences would be carried out.
"Nevertheless, the very issuing of the sentence itself is quite significant," he added.
Egypt has been thrown into turmoil after Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, was toppled by the powerful military on Wednesday after massive protests against his regime.
The Muslim Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, has vowed to continue in peaceful protests until the Islamist president is reinstated.
There has since been a severe crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood group, as well as on other activists seen as hostile to the military-backed interim government.
Last December, the Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organization after which the authorities started punishing any public show of support for it.
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