An Egyptian judge sentenced to death the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader and 682 other people Monday in the latest in a series of high-stakes mass trials that have been unprecedented in scope, drawing sharp condemnation from international rights groups.
The verdicts — which were appealed by general prosecutor— come as the military-backed government has launched a massive crackdown against Islamist supporters of ousted leader Mohammed Morsi, under the banner of "war against terrorism" while tightening its grip on the Arab world's most populous nation.
Suggesting there might be room for reversal, the same judge also reduced the sentences against 529 defendants indicted in a similar case in March, upholding the death penalty for only 37 and commuting the rest to life imprisonment.
Still, the three dozen death sentences that were upheld was an extraordinarily high number for Egypt, compared to the dramatic trial in the wake of the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, when only five people were sentenced to death and executed.
Judge Said Youssef said he was referring Monday's death sentences — which were for convictions of violence and killing policemen — to the Grand Mufti, the nation's top Islamic official — a requirement under Egyptian law that is usually considered a formality but also gives room for the judge to change his mind. Of the 683, all but 68 were tried in absentia.
The government has conducted a series of mass trials of Brotherhood supporters after a crackdown in which hundreds were killed and nearly 16,000 detained. It also branded the Brotherhood a terrorist group, a claim the group denies.
Read more at the Associated Press