An Egyptian court Saturday upheld its death sentences for 183 defendants, including the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, while reversing the convictions of nearly 500 other previously condemned men. The latest verdict can still be appealed to a higher court.
The initial death verdicts were handed down in April by the court in Minya, in southern Egypt, against 683 defendants. In March, the same court had simultaneously sentenced 529 men to death, sparking an international outcry.
The defendants are accused of taking part in violent acts and plotting an assault on a police station that resulted in an officer’s death. Clashes broke out across Egypt after security forces broke up protest camps set up by followers of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in August, killing hundreds.
After the original verdict, the case was referred to Egypt’s grand mufti, the senior religious authority, for consideration. The court did not disclose what the mufti’s recommendation had been, and judges are not obliged to abide by it.
Now the case can be appealed to a higher court, which defense lawyers said they would do. In addition, those convicted in absentia are automatically entitled to a retrial if they request it. Seventy-four of the defendants were present in court.
In Saturday’s ruling, four of the death sentences were commuted to life in prison.
The mass death verdict in March had included the Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide, Mohamed Badie. The deposed Morsi is also on trial for a variety of capital crimes.
Tribunals with dozens or hundreds of defendants have been denounced by human rights groups in Egypt and abroad. The country’s judiciary has been accused of playing a role in the state's sweeping crackdown against Morsi's supporters.
Hassan is a special correspondent.