CAIRO: An Egyptian court confirmed on Saturday death sentences against the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and 182 supporters, a strong sign that the crackdown on the group will continue under new President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Mohamed Badie and other defendants were charged over violence that erupted in the southern Egyptian town of Minya following the ouster, led by former army chief Sisi, of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, a senior Brotherhood member, last July.
One police officer was killed in the violence.
The court’s decision came two months after it referred the case against Badie, general guide of the now outlawed Brotherhood, and 682 other defendants to a top religious authority, the first step to imposing a death penalty.
Those preliminary sentences triggered outrage among Western governments and rights groups, with the United States and European Union both saying they were appalled by the rulings.
Saturday’s decision comes just two weeks after Sisi took office as president after winning an election in May. Since Mursi’s overthrow last year, which was followed by protests by his supporters, hundreds of Islamist protesters have been killed and thousands jailed in a crackdown by security forces.
In the run-up to the election, Sisi said that the Brotherhood – Egypt’s oldest, most organised and successful political group – was finished and would not exist under his rule.
Amnesty International described Saturday’s verdicts as “the latest example of the Egyptian judiciary’s bid to crush dissent”.
There was no immediate reaction on the ruling from the Brotherhood, whose members are either in jail or on the run, but the streets around the court compound and in most Egyptian cities remained quiet.
Out of a total 683 defendants, around 100 are in detention and the rest were tried in absentia. Four were jailed for life while 496 were acquitted, according to judiciary sources. All verdicts can be appealed before a higher court.
“Those rulings are a continued farce,” prominent Egyptian human rights activist and lawyer Gamal Eid said on Saturday. “And the state is still insisting that the judiciary is independent. I don’t know how we can believe that when we see rulings like that. It is against logic and common sense. It is a joke.”
The same court had a few months ago confirmed death sentences on 37 Brotherhood supporters in rulings that were part of a final judgement on 528 Muslim Brotherhood supporters who had received initial death sentences.
In a separate case, a Cairo court referred Badie and 13 other Brotherhood supporters on Thursday to the Mufti, a top religious authority, on charges of murder and firearms possession related to clashes during the protests last July. Around 500 army and police officers have been killed since Mursi’s fall.
Badie and other senior Brotherhood leaders including Mursi are standing trial in other cases.
Sisi, late on Friday, held a brief meeting at Cairo airport with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah whose country, like Egypt, has branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, viewing its Islamist doctrines as a threat to Saudi dynastic rule.
The Egyptian state had in November issued a law that banned protests without police permission. Many liberal and Islamist activists have been arrested in the past few months for protesting without a license.
Outside the Minya court compound on Saturday, around 200 people, mostly relatives of defendants that were freed, gathered to celebrate the ruling. “Long live justice, long live Sisi,” they chanted. – Reuters