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Egypt court to pass final judgment on 529 protesters facing death

Another 600 alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporters also face sentencing by same judge on similar charges

An Egyptian court on Monday will pass final judgment on 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters sentenced to death last month in a case that has provoked outrage among rights groups. The same judge will issue verdicts against another 683 accused of violence, including Mohamed Badie — the Muslim Brotherhood’s top leader.

The preliminary death sentences were issued by Judge Said Yousef on March 24 — just two days after the mass trial began. The charges relate to violence in which one policeman was killed in August in Minya, 75 miles south of Cairo.

The mass trial lasted two days and was over in less than 100 minutes. Lawyers for the defense were prevented from presenting arguments and the prosecution offered no evidence, rights groups say.

Judge Yousef is known for handing down tough sentences, according to local lawyers. He is also, however, the same judge who acquitted all officials and police officers accused of killing dozens of protesters in the Bani Swaif area during the Jan. 25, 2011 mass protests.

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Last August, over 1,000 Brotherhood supporters were killed when two peaceful sit-ins were attacked by army and security forces at Rabaa al-Adawiyya mosque and al-Nahdha square in Cairo.

Now, hundreds of alleged Brotherhood supporters are on trial for the violence sparked by the massacres.

The Muslim Brotherhood was Egypt's biggest political party until last year, when the army-backed government outlawed it as a "terrorist" organization. The government accuses the Brotherhood of violence. The group denies the accusation.

Critics of the mass death sentence said it reflects a larger problem of “independent, unqualified judges,” Abdel Ghany Sayed, legal adviser for the Ministry of International Cooperation, told the Cairo Post after the sentencing in March.

Sayed criticized the rapidity of the verdict and the judge for not allowing time for a proper defense: “The ruling was not politicized. The judge was unqualified. The real problem is that the Egyptian judiciary is very independent, and judges issue rulings as they like.”

Judge Yousef will also issue verdicts on an additional 683 people, including top Brotherhood leader Badie. They are charged with crimes including inciting violence following the military coup that ousted former president Mohamed Morsi last July.

Thousands of Morsi supporters have been arrested since the army takeover following mass protests against Egypt’s first democratically elected leader.

After imposing the preliminary death sentences on March 24, Judge Yousef referred his ruling to the state mufti, Egypt's highest religious authority. His non-binding opinion is always sought in cases of capital punishment.

Were Yousef to uphold his death sentences, the subsequent appeals process could result in lesser penalties. Most of those convicted are not in detention and were tried in absentia, with 147 in court.

Some hold out hope that the sentences could be overturned, or pardoned by the president — citing the example of the pardon of 21 girls and women accused in Alexandria of sabotage, rioting and possession of weapons.

Their guilty verdict sparked international outrage and was followed by a statement by interim President Adly Mansour, who pledged to intervene in the case only after all the legal procedures had been completed, Al-Arabiya reported.

The Egyptian Misdemeanor Court of Appeals ordered their release on Dec. 21.

On Sunday, judicial sources said around 60 other Brotherhood supporters were sentenced for crimes linked to protests, such as obstructing traffic and using violence against the police. Two thirds of them were sentenced in Minya by Judge Yousef. He also jailed 13 Brotherhood supporters to between five and 65 years on Saturday for similar crimes.

“While the military coup regime flexes its muscles and shows contempt for any notion of justice or human rights, the world is looking the other way,” Hassiba Hadi Sahraoui, deputy Middle East and North Africa program director at Amnesty International, said after the death sentences were handed down.

She added that there has not been an adequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of protesters and other human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by security forces.

“For many governments it’s back to business as usual with authoritarian regimes. Long gone are the days when Obama declared in 2009 in Cairo that ‘the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed, confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice … they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere,’” she said.

With wire services

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