In Brief

Egypt sentences 528 Muslim Brotherhood backers to death

Ruling is the largest death sentence in Egypt's modern history; army accused of 'new dictarorship'

AN EGYPTIAN court has sentenced hundreds of members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death.

More than 500 supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi have been convicted of murdering a policeman and attacks on people and property during just two sessions of the court in Minya, south of Cairo, the BBC reports. There were 528 convictions and only 16 defendants were acquitted, defence lawyer Ahmed al-Sharif told Reuters.

More than 1,200 Morsi supporters face trial, including some senior Muslim Brotherhood members. The number of death sentences is a record, lawyers said. "This is the quickest case and the number sentenced to death is the largest in the history of the judiciary," said lawyer Nabil Abdel Salam, who has defended some Brotherhood leaders including Morsi.

The ruling will be scrutinised by the Grand Mufti – a senior Islamic scholar who acts as Egypt's supreme religious authority – for approval or rejection. All of the defendants are expected to appeal the judgement.

In July last year, the Egyptian Army overthrew Morsi – the first democratically elected president since the 2011 revolution. Muslim Brotherhood members took to the streets in protest, but a violent crackdown left hundreds of dead and thousands more in prison.

The military-backed interim government has been hostile to almost all dissent since it took charge.

Abdullah el-Haddad, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman in London told the BBC that the sentences showed that the interim regime has no interest in democracy.

"It may be just a threat message and there will be appeals to the court and the decision of the court will change, but this is the new Egypt after the coup," said el-Haddad. "This is the new dictatorship that [army chief and defence minister Field Marshal] Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is trying to establish."

A trial of another 700 Morsi supporters begins on Tuesday.

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