An Egyptian court has sentenced 529 supporters of the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to death after a two day mass trial in which defense lawyers claimed they were never allowed to present their case, local media and news agencies are reporting.
The Egyptian news site Al Ahram described Monday’s decision as “the largest set of death sentences handed to defendants in the modern history of Egypt.”
The Associated Press called it “one of the largest mass trials in the country in decades.”
“A sharp escalation of a crackdown on the [Muslim Brotherhood] movement,” reported Reuters.
The supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi were convicted on charges of murdering a police officer and other attacks on police, including the attempted murder of two other policemen, burning a police station, stealing weapons and attacking public property, the official MENA news agency reported.
Most of those sentenced to death were tried in absentia, the AP reported. Among those not present, some had been released, others were out on bail while yet others were on the run, Reuters reported.
More than 150 defendants “stood trial in unprecedentedly rushed hearings that lasted only two days,” the AP pointed out, adding that only 16 were acquitted. Most of the defendants were arrested last August during clashes in the Minya province.
The court handed down its sentence in the trial that began on Saturday without ever hearing arguments from the defense, Al Ahram reported.
The AP reported that the verdicts and sentences are likely to be overturned on appeal, quoting human rights lawyers.
“This is way over the top and unacceptable,” attorney Mohammed Zarie who heads a rights center told the AP. “It turns the judiciary in Egypt from a tool for achieving justice to an instrument for taking revenge.”
“This verdict could be a precedent both in the history of Egyptian courts and perhaps, tribunals elsewhere in the world,” he added.
The Egyptian government has declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist group.
“The mass nature of the trial testifies to the determination of Egypt’s military-backed government to break the Muslim Brotherhood group and leave no room for political reconciliation with the country’s largest Islamist bloc, from which Morsi hails,” the AP wrote.