- (Photo: Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
An Egyptian court has sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death for the murder of a policeman and their role in anti-government clashes, a ruling which human rights lawyers has called "over the top."
"This is way over the top and unacceptable. It turns the judiciary in Egypt from a tool for achieving justice to an instrument for taking revenge," said lawyer Mohamed Zarie, who heads the Arab Penal Reform Organization rights center in Cairo, according to The Associated Press on Monday.
"This verdict could be a precedent both in the history of Egyptian courts and perhaps, tribunals elsewhere in the world."
The 529 supporters of former president Mohammed Morsi and the Brotherhood were reportedly convicted after only two sessions. Sixteen defendants in total were acquitted, and all but 150 of the defendants were tried in absentia.
According to defense lawyer Khaled el-Koumi, presiding judge Said Youssef refused to postpone the case and give attorneys the time needed to review the hundreds of documents in the case.
"We didn't have the chance to say a word, to look at more than 3,000 pages of investigation and to see what evidence they are talking about," el-Koumi said.
Morsi lost the presidency in July 2013 following a public revolt, having led the country for about a year. The Muslim Brotherhood party, which supported him, has since been branded a terrorist organization by the Egyptian government, and accused of carrying out bombings of security buildings.
Lawyers have predicted that the mass death-penalty sentence will be overturned, but pointed out that the harshness of the ruling reflects the Muslim Brotherhood crackdown Egypt has undertaken since the fall of Morsi. Some 16,000 people, including most of the Brotherhood's leadership have been arrested in the crackdown.
"Even if they are tried in absentia, you do not sentence 529 defendants to death in three days," said Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, according to Ahram Online, calling the verdict a "disaster" and a "scandal" for the African country.
"This court ruling will be overturned as soon as the defendants demand a retrial," said Nasser Amin, a member of the semi-governmental National Council for Human Rights.
Zarie even wondered how the court's verdict compares to decisions made by history's notorious dictators.
"This verdict is a first in the history of Egypt and will remain in [the nation's record] for good," the lawyer offered. "We need to see if such numbers [of collective capital punishment] are found during the times of Hitler, [Iraq's] Saddam [Hussein] and Joseph Stalin."
Reuters noted that Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders are still awaiting trial on various charges related to destabilizing the country.