Egyptian court sets April 28 as judgment day for 700 Islamists

Supporters of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, who was overthrown by the army after demonstrations against his rule last July, shout slogans during a protest in Matariya area, east of Cairo, March 7, 2014. An Egypt court that triggered a global outc
Supporters of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, who was overthrown by the army after demonstrations against his rule last July, shout slogans during a protest in Matariya area, east of Cairo, March 7, 2014. An Egypt court that triggered a global outcry after it sentenced 529 Islamists to death has set April 28 as judgment day in the trial of about 700 co-defendants, a lawyer said on Tuesday, March 25, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

CAIRO (AFP) - An Egypt court that triggered a global outcry after it sentenced 529 Islamists to death has set April 28 as judgment day in the trial of about 700 co-defendants, a lawyer said on Tuesday.

Mohamed Badie, the supreme guide of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, is among the defendants, but he was not brought to court on Tuesday for security reasons, security officials said. He faces several other trials that could also result in the death penalty.

Defence lawyers boycotted Tuesday's session of the trial, branding it "farcical" after Monday's mass sentencing, which the United Nations denounced as a breach of international human rights law.

The roughly 1,200 defendants in the case are accused of the murder and attempted murder of several policemen during riots in the city of Minya south of Cairo on August 14.

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

Lawyer Mohamed Tousson told AFP that the defence had walked out of Tuesday's session of the Minya court.

"We boycotted the hearing because the trial is farcical," he said. Mr Tousson later said that the trial was adjourned to April 28, when the judge is expected to deliver his verdict on the nearly 700 Islamists.

Egyptian media reported that the judge, Mr Said Yusef Sabry, has a history of delivering harsh judgements, including a 30-year prison sentence for a man who stole dresses from a women's clothing store.

Legal experts said the unprecedented sentences on Monday are likely to be overturned on appeal, after the court rushed through the verdict in two hearings.

The sentencings sparked an international outcry and sent a chill through opponents of the military-installed regime, which has placed more than 2,000 alleged Islamists on mass trials since the army overthrew Mursi in July.

Monday's death sentences drew fire from rights groups, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union, which questioned the fairness of proceedings against so many defendants lasting just two days.

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

Of the 529 sentenced on Monday, only 153 are in custody. The rest were tried in their absence and will get a retrial if they turn themselves in.

Another 17 defendants were acquitted.

The United Nations denounced Monday's verdict.

"The mass imposition of the death penalty after a trial that was rife with procedural irregularities is in breach of international human rights law," said Mr Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights.

Washington questioned how the court could have given the defendants a fair hearing in a trial that spanned just two days - an opening session on Saturday and Monday's sentencing.

"It sort of defies logic," said Ms Marie Harf, deputy US State Department spokesman, adding that Washington was "deeply concerned" and "shocked".

"Obviously the defendants can appeal, but it simply does not seem possible that a fair review of evidence and testimony consistent with international standards could be accomplished with over 529 defendants in a two-day trial," Ms Harf said.

Defence counsel Tousson charged that the judge had rushed to sentencing on Monday after being angered by a lawyer's request for his recusal at Saturday's opening hearing.

"He got very angry, and adjourned the trial for sentencing," Mr Tousson said. "It's a huge violation of defendants' rights."

The Foreign Ministry defended the judiciary, saying it was "entirely independent and not influenced in any way by the executive branch of government".

At least 1,400 people have been killed in the crackdown on Mursi's supporters and thousands more arrested, according to Amnesty International.

Mursi is himself currently on trial in three different cases. The army removed Egypt's first freely elected president after a single year in power following mass protests demanding his resignation.

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