529 Muslim Brotherhood members sentenced to death in Egypt
An Egyptian court sentenced 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death for murder, violence, inciting murder, and other charges. It is the largest number of death sentences handed down by a court in Egypt's modern history.
Family members stood outside the courthouse screaming after the verdict - the biggest mass death sentence handed out in Egypt's modern history, defence lawyers said. Supporters set fire to a nearby school in protest, state television reported.
Turmoil has deepened since the army overthrew Egypt's first freely elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in July. Security forces have killed hundreds of Brotherhood members in the streets and arrested thousands.
Most of the defendants at Monday's hearing were detained during clashes which erupted in the southern province of Minya after the forced dispersal of two Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo on August 14.
Islamist militants have also stepped up attacks on the police and army since Mursi's ouster, killing hundreds and carrying out high profile operations against senior interior ministry officials.
"The court has decided to sentence to death 529 defendants, and 16 were acquitted," defence lawyer Ahmed al-Sharif told Reuters. The condemned men can appeal against the ruling.
State television reported the sentences without comment. A government spokesman did not immediately respond to calls.
The Muslim Brotherhood, largely driven underground, responded by calling for the "downfall of military rule" on its official website.
Mohamed Mahsoub, who served as minister of legal affairs under Mursi, described the court's decision "a ruling calling for the execution of justice" on his Facebook page.
The sentences came days before army chief Field Marshall Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was expected to declare his candidacy in presidential elections. He is widely expected to win.
The charges against the group, on trial in Minya since Saturday, include violence, inciting murder, storming a police station, attacking persons and damaging public and private property.
"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 Mursi.
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.
Few experts believe that al-Sisi is dumb enough to make 529 instant martyrs for the Brotherhood's cause, so expect most of those sentences to be commuted. Still, that many death sentences after only a 3 day trial? If only the military could get the economy working that efficiently.
I have no sympathy at all for the MB, but we've seen this movie before. The Brotherhood is banned, they go underground, they organize, they grow in strength, the government eventually relents and allows them to operate...
And then the same thing happens that happened after Mubarak was overthrown; they get elected overwhelmingly. The only way this scenario will be different is if the military relinquishes power and allows secular parties to form and develop.
Don't bet on that, however. Any non-military party that comes to power will make it the first order of business to reform the military. The generals will never allow that which means the likelihood of weak secular parties and dictatorial rule will continue.