Egypt verdict expected for 700, including Islamist leader by Samer

Mohamed Damaty, member of the team of Egyptian lawyers defending 42 supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, talks to journalists outside the courthouse following a hearing in his clients' trial on April 27, 2014 in the capital Cairo.

AL-ATRUSH CAIRO - The Egyptian judge who sentenced to death hundreds of supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last month will issue a verdict Monday on another 700 people, including the leader of his Muslim Brotherhood.

Monday's hearing in a court in the southern province of Minya comes amid a brutal crackdown on supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood since the military overthrew him last July amid massive protests calling for his resignation.

The hearing has come under the spotlight after the judge, Said Yousef Sabry, sentenced an earlier batch of 529 defendants to death in just two sessions last month. That verdict is open to appeal, but has outraged the United Nations and human rights groups.

The second batch of nearly 700, including Mohamed Badie, the head of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, face charges of the murder and attempted murder of several policemen during rioting by supporters of Morsi in Minya on August 14.

The rioting erupted as news spread that police had killed hundreds of Morsi's supporters while dispersing two Cairo protest camps.

The charges are similar to those faced by the 529 defendants.

Monday's session will be the second for the around 700 defendants, after an opening hearing in March, which Sabry adjourned to announce the verdict.

Of the nearly 700 accused, about 50 are in custody while the rest are either out on bail or on the run.

The judge is also expected to ratify the death sentences against the 529 defendants on Monday, but legal experts say an appeals court will likely overturn them.

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.

Under Egyptian law, the court pronounces a death sentence and refers the case to the top Islamic scholar, who plays an advisory role. It then ratifies the sentence in a subsequent hearing.

Hate-filled attack

Defence lawyers boycotted the last session, branding it "farcical" after the mass death sentencing which the United Nations denounced as a breach of international human rights law.

Defence lawyer Khaled Elkomy claims that 60 per cent of the 529 defendants, including teachers and some doctors, have evidence that "proves they were not present the day they were accused of attacking the Matay police station" in Minya, a statement released by human rights group Avaaz said.

"This is not justice. It's a hate-filled attack by the authorities on hundreds of their fellow citizens, whose families are living through heartbreak and terror," Avaaz executive director Ricken Patel said in the statement.

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

Prosecutor Abdel Rahim Abdel Malek defended the charges against the 529 defendants.

"We have strong evidence that incriminates all those sentenced to death," he told AFP.

"We have videos, witness accounts ... documents that prove that the Muslim Brotherhood had called on its supporters to attack police stations, public and private properties in case the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya was broken up (by the police), and that's what happened," he said, referring to the sit-in of Morsi supporters in a Cairo square that was stormed by police on August 14.

The March sentencings sent a chill through opponents of the military-installed regime, which has placed thousands of alleged Islamists on mass trials since Morsi's ouster.

At least 1,000 have been sentenced since December, all in groups of 10 or more. Their prison terms range from six months to life, with two sentenced to death.

Amnesty International says more than 1,400 people have been killed in the police crackdown since the army overthrew Morsi, Egypt's first elected and civilian leader.

Morsi and Badie, jailed as part of the crackdown, each face several trials.