700 Egypt Islamists in court after mass death sentences

700 Egypt Islamists in court after mass death sentences
Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, who was overthrown by the army after demonstrations against his rule last July, shout slogans during a protest in Matarya area, east of Cairo, on March 21, 2014. Around 700 supporters of Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Mursi, including the supreme guide of his Muslim Brotherhood movement, were on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 due in court, a day after 529 co-defendants were sentenced to death.

CAIRO - An Egyptian court that sentenced 529 people to death began trying about 700 more alleged supporters of deposed president Mohamed Mursi on Tuesday, including the leader of his Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Lawyers said they would demand the judge step down after he handed down the unprecedented death sentences on Monday in a court in the southern province of Minya after only two hearings.

Legal experts said the unprecedented sentences are likely to be overturned on appeal.

The rushed sentencings sparked an international outcry and sent a chill through opponents of the military-installed regime, which has placed more than 2,000 alleged Islamists on mass trials since the army overthrew Mursi in July.

The roughly 1,200 defendants in Minya are accused of the murder and attempted murder of several policemen during riots on August 14, as police killed hundreds of Mursi supporters when dispersing two Cairo protest camps.

Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme guide, is among the defendants who are expected in court on Tuesday. He faces several other trials that could also result in the death penalty.

Monday's death sentences drew criticism from rights groups, the United States and the European Union, which questioned the fairness of proceedings against so many defendants lasting just two days.

Legal experts said the shock verdict would likely be overturned on appeal because the court had rushed the trial without following the required procedures.

Egypt's army-installed interim government has defended the court's handling of the case, insisting that the sentences had been handed down only "after careful study" and were subject to appeal.

Of the 529 sentenced on Monday, only 153 are in custody. The rest were tried in their absence and will get a retrial if they turn themselves in.

Another 17 defendants were acquitted.

The judgement can be appealed at the Court of Cassation, which would probably order a new trial or reduce the sentences, legal expert Gamal Eid said.

"This sentencing is a catastrophe and a travesty and a scandal that will affect Egypt for many years," said Eid, who heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

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