THE Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader and more than 180 protesters have had their death sentences confirmed by an Egyptian court following the latest mass trial in the wake of last year’s overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
The ruling by the southern Minya criminal court yesterday is the largest confirmed mass death sentence in recent memory and comes from Judge Said Youssef, who earlier presided over the mass trial.
It is the second death sentence for the Islamist Brotherhood’s “supreme guide” Mohammed Badie since a crackdown on his group began. The court acquitted more than 400 others in the case.
Family members of the accused wailed or cheered the verdicts, as the fate of their loved ones was read out.
The case stems from an attack on a police station in the town of el-Adwa near the city of Minya on 14 August last year, in which one police officer and one civilian died.
Similar revenge attacks swept Egypt after security forces cleared a protest camp of Brotherhood supporters of deposed Islamist president Morsi, in which hundreds were killed.
The charges in the case ranged from murder, joining a terrorist organisation, sabotage, possession of weapons and terrorising civilians.
Initially, Youssef sentenced some 683 people to death over the attack, then sent the case to Egypt’s grand mufti, the country’s top spiritual leader.
The mufti offered his opinion, then sent the case back to Youssef to confirm his sentence. Lawyers for the accused said they planned to appeal.
Of the initial 683, all but 110 were tried in absentia, a defence lawyer said, meaning they will receive new trials once apprehended, as recommended by Egyptian law.
The mass trials have drawn worldwide condemnation. However, they have continued with many Egyptians appearing to approve of the heavy-handed measures as a way to end the turmoil which began after the 2011 revolt against autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Since then the army has toppled Morsi, amid popular protests, and the former army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been elected president
“There has been an excess in using the death sentences recently, which will only lead to more violence in society because people are now used to the idea of execution, killing and blood,” prominent rights lawyer Negad el-Borai said.
Amnesty described the ruling as one more “alarming sign of the Egyptian judiciary’s increasing politicisation”.
Among those sentenced to death yesterday was a blind man named Mustafa Youssef.
“He was born blind. How would he kill, burn and loot?” asked his lawyer.
The hearing yesterday lasted less than 15 minutes. Only 75 prisoners were brought to a prison attached to the court but did not attend the hearing.
Brotherhood leader Badie, held in a Cairo prison, did not attend. The judge arrived at the court in an armoured vehicle under guard.
Female relatives of those who were acquitted ululated, clapped and chanted the pro-military slogan: “The army and the people are one hand.”
Those whose relatives received death sentences screamed and shouted insults to the brother of the police officer killed in the 14 August attack. They believe police shot the officer themselves in order to incriminate the protesters.
Ashour Qaddab, the brother of the murdered police officer, broke into tears after the verdict.
“This is God’s justice ... to my brother’s five orphans,” Qaddab said. On hearing him, relatives of other defendants screamed: “Your brother was killed by police!”