529 Brotherhood Members Sentenced to Death
An Egyptian court sentenced 529 members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to death for murder and other offenses on Monday in a sharp escalation of a crackdown on the movement that is likely to fuel instability.
Family members stood outside the courthouse screaming after the verdict, which defense lawyers called the biggest mass death sentence handed out in Egypt’s modern history.
Turmoil has deepened since the army overthrew Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, in July. Security forces have killed hundreds of Brotherhood members in the streets and arrested thousands.
Human rights groups said Monday’s verdict suggested the authorities intended to tighten their squeeze on the opposition. The U.S. State Department said it was shocked by the death sentences.
State television reported the sentences without comment. A government spokesman did not immediately respond to calls and several government officials said they could not comment on judicial matters.
“The court has decided to sentence to death 529 defendants, and 16 were acquitted,” defense lawyer Ahmed al-Sharif told Reuters. The condemned men can appeal against the ruling.
Most of the defendants at Monday’s hearing were detained and charged with carrying out attacks during clashes that erupted in the southern province of Minya after the forced dispersal of two Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo on August 14.
“We did not expect such a brutal sentence. But at the same time this military regime just wants to kill anybody who wants to express an opinion,” Sayaf Gamal, one of the Brotherhood members sentenced to death, said by telephone. He is on the run.
“They are willing to kill everybody so that there is no freedom of expression,” Gamal said.
“We’re certainly raising it with the Egyptian government … it’s a pretty shocking number,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said of the sentences. “It defies logic that over 529 defendants could be tried in a two-day period in accordance with international standards.”
Harf added that the United States still considered its ties with Egypt to be important and added: “We don’t want to completely cut off the relationship.”