MINYA, Egypt (AFP) - An Egyptian court on Monday sentenced Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and 682 other alleged Islamists to death, a lawyer and prosecutor said.
The same court also reversed 492 death sentences out of 529 it passed in March, commuting most of those to life in prison. Of the 683 sentenced on Monday, only about 50 are in detention. The judge will confirm the verdict on June 21. The others have a right to a retrial if they hand themselves in.
The verdict was the first against Badie, the spiritual head of ousted president Mohamed Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood, in the several trials he faces on various charges along with Mursi himself and other Brotherhood leaders.
Some female relatives waiting outside the courtroom in the southern province of Minya fainted on hearing news of the verdict. "Where is the justice?" others chanted.
Several said family members had been unjustly convicted or put on trial. "My son does not even pray, he does not even know where the mosque is," said one woman, whose son was among the 529 sentenced to death in March.
Those sentenced on Monday were accused of involvement in the murder and attempted murder of policemen in Minya province on August 14, the day police killed hundreds of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi's supporters in clashes in Cairo.
Defence lawyers boycotted the last session, branding it "farcical" after the mass death sentencing which the United Nations denounced as a breach of international human rights law.
Defence lawyer Khaled Elkomy claims that 60 per cent of the 529 defendants, including teachers and some doctors, have evidence that "proves they were not present the day they were accused of attacking the Matay police station" in Minya, a statement released by human rights group Avaaz said.
The government has defended the court's handling of the first mass case, insisting that the sentences were passed only "after careful study" and were subject to appeal.
Prosecutor Abdel Rahim Abdel Malek defended the charges against the 529. "We have strong evidence that incriminates all those sentenced to death," he told AFP.
"We have videos, witness accounts... documents that prove that the Muslim Brotherhood had called on its supporters to attack police stations and public and private property in case the sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya (in Cairo) was broken up, and that's what happened," he said.
Last month's death sentences sent a chill through opponents of the military-installed regime, which has held mass trials of thousands of alleged Islamists since Mursi's ouster.
At least 1,000 people have been sentenced since December, all in groups of 10 or more. Jail terms passed range from six months to life, as well as the death penalty.
Amnesty International says that more than 1,400 people have been killed in the police crackdown since the army overthrew Mursi, Egypt's first elected and civilian leader.