The Egyptian judge who sentenced to death hundreds of supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi will pass judgment Monday on another 700 people, including Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie.
At the same hearing, Judge Yousef Sabry is also expected to confirm the death sentences he passed last month against 529 alleged Islamists, after asking the opinion of the country’s top Islamic scholar in a formality required under Egyptian law.
Monday’s hearing in the southern province of Minya comes amid a brutal crackdown on Morsi supporters and the Brotherhood since the military overthrew him last July amid massive protests calling for his resignation.
The court has come under the spotlight after the same judge in March sentenced the 529 defendants to death in just two sessions. That verdict is open to appeal, but has outraged the United Nations and human rights groups.
The second batch of nearly 700, including Badie, face charges of the murder and attempted murder of several policemen during rioting by Morsi supporters in Minya on August 14.
The charges are similar to those faced by the other 529.
Relatives of the defendants waited outside the heavily secured court on Monday to awaiting the latest verdicts. Several said family members had been unjustly convicted or placed on trial.
“My son does not even pray, he does not even know where the mosque is,” said one woman, whose son was among the 529 sentenced to death in March.
The rioting last August 14 erupted as news spread that police had killed hundreds of Morsi supporters while dispersing two protest camps in Cairo.
Monday’s session will be the second for the around 700 defendants, after an opening hearing in March which Sabry adjourned to announce the verdict.
Of the nearly 700 accused, some 50 are in custody while the others are either on bail or on the run.
The court’s verdicts can be appealed at the Court of Cassation, which would probably order a new trial or commute the sentences for the 529 already given the death penalty, legal expert Gamal Eid said.
– ‘Hate-filled attack’-
Defence lawyers boycotted the last session, branding it “farcical” after the mass death sentencing which the United Nations denounced as a breach of international human rights law.
Defence lawyer Khaled Elkomy claims that 60 percent of the 529 defendants, including teachers and some doctors, have evidence that “proves they were not present the day they were accused of attacking the Matay police station” in Minya, a statement released by human rights group Avaaz said.
The government has defended the court’s handling of the case, insisting that the sentences were passed only “after careful study” and were subject to appeal.
Prosecutor Abdel Rahim Abdel Malek defended the charges against the 529.
“We have strong evidence that incriminates all those sentenced to death,” he told AFP.
“We have videos, witness accounts… documents that prove that the Muslim Brotherhood had called on its supporters to attack police stations and public and private property in case the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya (in Cairo) was broken up, and that’s what happened,” he said.
Last month’s death sentences sent a chill through opponents of the military-installed regime, which has held mass trials of thousands of alleged Islamists since Morsi’s ouster.
At least 1,000 people have been sentenced since December, all in groups of 10 or more. Jail terms passed range from six months to life, as well as the death penalty.
Amnesty International says that more than 1,400 people have been killed in the police crackdown since the army overthrew Morsi, Egypt’s first elected and civilian leader.
Morsi and Badie, jailed as part of the crackdown, each face several trials.