What's happening today, March 24:
A judge in Egypt has sentenced 529 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death for the killing of one police officer. The Muslim Brotherhood supports the ousted President Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown by the military last July following mass protests against his expansion of powers, the weakness of Egypt's economy, and other domestic issues. Morsi is currently facing separate trials for inciting killings and working with foreign powers to destabilize Egypt.
The 529 defendants were arrested last August during the unrest that followed a crackdown on pro-Morsi camps in Cairo in which hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed. Sixteen of the defendants were acquitted after lawyers argued that they had not been able to make an adequate defense.
Watch footage from The Guardian of relatives reacting to the verdicts below:
According to The Guardian, 683 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, including its leader Mohamed Badie, will be tried tomorrow.
Reaction and Analysis:
Amnesty International condemned the "injustice writ large" and called for the death sentences to be "quashed." The human rights group notes the sentencing of 529 to death "is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences" in recent years anywhere in the world, and pointed out that:
"Egypt's courts are quick to punish Mohamed Morsi's supporters but ignore gross human rights violations by the security forces. While thousands of Morsi's supporters languish in jail, there has not been an adequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Just one police officer is facing a prison sentence, for the deaths of 37 detainees. The head of an Egyptian human rights group says the judge's verdict is not final:
Hafez Abu Saada, head of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights and member of the National Council for Human rights, said he is "astonished" at the verdict. "This is the first time in Egyptian judicial history that more than 500 are referred to the death penalty." He said the decision is a result of what he believes to have been "very illegal proceedings".
Abu Saada explained that Allam's decision is not final, but is instead an opinion that will be given to the Minya Criminal Court to decide on a final verdict. The lawyers and the defendants will then have the opportunity to appeal the verdict with the Court of Cassation. If the appeal is accepted the trial will be heard again in the Minya Criminal Court by a different judge. Morsi's supporters say the ruling was intended for protesters on the street:
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. A Muslim Brotherhood member of the defense team for the 529 convicted called the trial "the fastest and most bizarre in the history of Egyptian judiciary," and said only 22 of the defendants were members of the Brotherhood. The defense team plans to appeal the verdict.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 following mass protests against his rule. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces ruled Egypt between Mubarak's removal and Morsi being sworn in as president in June 2012.
Morsi won the June 2012 presidential election with a little over 50 percent of the vote in the second round of voting, and was supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political and social organization that was technically illegal under Mubarak's rule. After Mubarak was overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood was legalized.
After Morsi was removed from power last July many of his supporters set up protest camps in Cairo. Hundreds were killed when security forces moved in to clear the camps.
In December, the interim government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The announcement came after the interim government blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the bombing of a police station in northern Egypt, despite the fact that a Sinai-based jihadist group claimed responsibility for the attack.
In January, Egyptians voted in a referendum on a draft constitution, which the Muslim Brotherhood called for its members to boycott. The draft constitution, which bans political parties based on "religion, race, gender or geography," was overwhelmingly approved by voters.
According to a fact sheet from Ahram Online on the death penalty in Egypt, 709 people were given death sentences between 1981 and 2001, but only 249 were executed.