Egypt targets Muslim Brotherhood in mass death sentences

| Monday, April 28, 2014, 8:39 p.m.

MINYA, Egypt — An Egyptian court in the southern city of Minya sentenced 683 people to death on Monday in the most recent of a series of mass trials that have alarmed the international community, nine months after a military coup ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president.

The ruling was made one month after 529 people were sentenced to death in a similar mass trial in the same courtroom, and it coincided with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy's visit to Washington to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry in an effort to smooth relations between the United States and one of its most significant Middle East allies.

The Obama administration quickly condemned the ruling, saying it defied “even the most basic standards of international justice.”

“Egyptian leaders must take a stand against this illogical action and dangerous precedent, recognizing that the repression of peaceful dissent will fuel the instability and radicalization that Egypt says it wishes to prevent,” press secretary Jay Carney said. “We urge the Egyptian government to end the use of mass trials, reverse this and previous mass sentences, and ensure that every citizen is afforded due process.”

The defendants, all alleged supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsy, included Mohammed Badie, the “supreme guide” of Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood, which captured the lion's share of votes in the country's first democratic parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012. If the sentence is upheld, it would be the first execution order for a Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide in nearly six decades.

As in the earlier mass death sentencing, the most serious charge was the killing of a single police officer in a nearby village during clashes between security forces and Morsy's supporters across the nation last summer, after Egyptian security forces initiated deadly raids on pro-Morsy protest camps in the capital.

The defendants were barred from attending their own trial, which lasted only a few minutes, defense attorneys said. It was unclear what evidence the court used to convict the men, who were described by families and defense attorneys as ordinary townspeople.

Defense attorneys said they would appeal the verdict.Egypt's new military-backed government has increasingly cracked down on voices of dissent, jailing tens of thousands of Islamist members of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as liberal democracy activists, journalists and university students.

Of the 683 men sentenced on Monday, only 70 are in custody, said Khaled Koumi, a defense attorney in the case.

In keeping with legal protocol, last month's mass death sentences were handed to Egypt's highest religious authority for review. Of those sentences, 37 were upheld. The rest received commuted sentences of life imprisonment.

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