Egypt pro-democracy bloc slams Minya death sentences

CAIRO – A major pro-democracy bloc in Egypt has slammed a ruling by a criminal court in the Upper Egyptian province of Minya sentencing 529 supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to death for committing acts of violence.

Magdi Qurqur, a senior member of the National Alliance for the Defense of Legitimacy, Morsi's main support bloc, told Anadolu Agency that the rulings were "politicized, and reveal the political intervention in the judiciary."

"The ruling was the result of pressure by the current authorities and targets the boiling protests on the Egyptian streets," he said.

He also criticized judges for their "appalling" verdict, calling on them not to be "tools in the hands of oppressors and the unjust." Qurqur also called on Egypt's grand mufti not to endorse the rulings.

A Minya-based source with the bloc said the ruling was "shocking and unexpected."

"The streets in Minya will boil, especially as not all these sentences were [handed down against] Brotherhood members; some of them even took part in the protests that led to Morsi's ouster," the source added.

Eyewitnesses said clashes erupted between security forces manning the court and angry relatives of the defendants following the delivery of the verdict. Some relatives were also arrested.

Tariq Fouda, head of the Minya Bar Association, told AA that the hearing was held in the absence of both defendants and their lawyers.

A lawyer for Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, who asked not the named for security reasons, also denounced the rulings as "invalid."

"The judge lost his legal authority to hear the case after defense lawyers demanded his recusal," he said.

"Lawyers also filed a complaint against him, which should restrain him from taking any action in the case," he added.

In the second session of the trial, the court only cleared 16 defendants out of 545, while finding the remainder guilty of committing violence in Minya last August after security forces violently dispersed two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo and Giza, leaving hundreds of protesters killed.

The court has referred the sentence to the grand mufti – Egypt's top religious official – for endorsement, the sources told AA. Under Egyptian law, the mufti's opinion is only advisory.

The court will issue its final verdict in the case on April 28, according to the judicial sources.

Although the ruling is still appealable, it has raised eyebrows since it represents the swiftest mass death sentence in Egypt's judicial history. A first trial session last Saturday lasted only 20 minutes, and judges delivered their ruling at the beginning of the second.

It's also the largest in terms of the number of those sentenced to death.

Another 683 defendants tried on the same set of charges will appear in court on Tuesday.

They are the first death sentences against Morsi supporters since the ouster of the elected president by the army last July 3.

Egypt's military-backed authorities have launched a massive crackdown on the Brotherhood, which propelled Morsi to power in 2012, since his ouster, arresting thousands of members and sympathizers.

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