An Egyptian judge sentenced 683 people to death for supporting Egypt’s ousted Islamist president and the Muslim Brotherhood during a mass trial in Minya on Monday.
Judge Said Youssef also upheld the death penalty handed down to 37 of 529 people in March. The remaining 492 had their sentences commuted to life in prison.
Youssef said the 683 death sentences are for murder and violence against police officers stemming from a deadly riot that erupted last August after former President Mohammed Morsi was ousted by the military. Three policemen and one civilian were killed.
Mohamed Badie, the spiritual guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, was sentenced to death Monday. If the sentence is not commuted, he would become the Brotherhood's most senior official to be executed since 1966.
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After the Monday ruling, Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division, said the defendants weren’t given the opportunity to defend themselves.
“The fact that the death sentences can be appealed provides little solace to hundreds of families that will go to sleep tonight facing the very real prospect that their loves ones could be executed without having an opportunity to present a case in court,” she said. “There is no more serious violation of the most basic right of due process and the right to a fair trial than that.”
She said Youssef didn’t even confirm that all the defendants were present.
Badie was not in the Minya courtroom, but in a Cairo court where he is facing charges of murder and incitement to murder with 16 other leaders of the Brotherhood.
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“There is no evidence whatsoever,” said Mohammed Hassan Shehata, the father of one defendant. “If my son is guilty, behead him but if he is innocent, there will be a civil war.”
Opponents of the Brotherhood support the death sentences.
“Even if they sentence a million people to death, so what?” said Sadeek el-Moghazi, a 43-year-old newspaper vendor in Heliopolis. “This is the best ruling in the history of the Egyptian judiciary.”