Brotherhood chief, 682 others sentenced to death in Egypt

Brotherhood chief, 682 others sentenced to death in Egypt

Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie and his 682 Islamist supporters were today sentenced to death by an Egyptian court in one of the country's largest mass trials, raising fears of tension ahead of next month's crucial Presidential elections.

The convicts were accused of involvement in killings and attempted murder of policemen in the southern Minya province on August 14, the day when security forces violently disbanded sit-ins held by ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi's supporters and killed hundreds of them in clashes in Cairo.

In a separate case, the same court in Minya today reversed 492 death sentences out of 529 it passed last month, commuting most of the death penalty to life in prison.

Judge Said Youssef referred his ruling on the 683 death sentences to the Grand Mufti, Egypt's top Islamic authority. Under Egyptian law, the verdicts must be ratified by the Grand Mufti before they can be carried out.

The court has set June 21 for the final verdict after the Grand Mufti's decision, a move widely considered a formality. The law allows the verdicts to be appealed.

If 70-year-old Badie's sentence is confirmed, it would make him the most senior Brotherhood figure sentenced to death since one of the group's leading ideologues, Sayed Qutb, was executed in 1966.

Badie, a white-bearded professor, became supreme guide of Egypt's largest movement in 2010. He had condemned the removal of president Morsi by the Egyptian military in July last year.

Of the 683 accused sentenced today, about 50 are in custody while the rest are either out on bail or on the run. A lawyer said the hearing lasted only eight minutes.Defence lawyers branded the hearing "farcical".

Several woman relatives of the accused waiting outside the courtroom fainted on hearing news of the death penalty. A large crowd chanted: "Where is the justice?", BBC reported."

Morsi belongs to the Brotherhood, an Islamist movement which swept all elections in Egypt following the fall of military dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Morsi's term was marked with political uncertainty and violence in a deeply polarised country that ultimately led to his ouster by the powerful military.

Some 16,000 people have been arrested since the military ousted Morsi, including most of the Brotherhood's top leaders.

Brotherhood has been designated a terrorist group by Egypt's military-backed regime, blaming it for a series of bombings and attacks. The group has denied the accusations.

Egypt has been in political turmoil since the overthrow of Mubarak during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

Analysts said today's verdict could raise tension as Egypt heads to presidential polls on May 26-27 in which former Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the leading contender.

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