CAIRO - An Egyptian court sentenced 12 supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to death on Wednesday on charges connected to the fatal shooting of a police general last year.
Eight of them, including the man convicted of firing the fatal bullet, are in custody, while the other four are on the run and were tried in absentia. The officer was killed during a police raid on an extremist stronghold in the capital on September 19, part of bloody crackdown in the wake of the army’s overthrow of Morsi in July.
The accused were also charged with “membership of a jihadist organisation” and attempted murder of police while resisting the raid. In all, 23 defendants stood trial, 12 of them in custody.
A final ruling on sentence is scheduled for August 6 after Egypt’s mufti, or top Muslim cleric, has given his opinion, which is not binding on the court.
The death sentences are the latest of hundreds handed down against extremists in the crackdown since Morsi’s overthrow. They come 10 days after the former army chief who led the July move against the elected president took the oath of office. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected with 96.9 percent of the vote in late May after eliminating virtually all opposition, Islamist or secular.
Meanwhile, Egypt has released Al-Jazeera journalist Abdullah Elshamy, who has been on hunger strike for nearly five months in protest over his detention.
Elshamy, who works for the main Arabic channel of the Qatar-based network, was arrested on August 14 when police dispersed supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo, sparking clashes that left hundreds killed. The journalist has been on hunger strike since January 21, according to his family.
On Tuesday, Elshamy, dressed in a white prison uniform and looking frail, walked out of a police station in Cairo’s neighbourhood of Nasr City, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene, a day after the prosecutor general ordered his release due to his health condition.
Elshamy’s family told AFP in May that he had shed 40 kilogrammes (88 pounds) since he began the hunger strike.
Twelve other defendants were also ordered released by the prosecutor on Monday over their health conditions.
Friends and relatives - including his mother, his wife and one of his brothers - waiting for Elshamy outside the police station chanted his name and clapped their hands in celebration of his release.
Al-Jazeera expressed its “relief “ in a statement issued swiftly after Elshamy’s release.
“Abdullah has been through a terrible ordeal for over ten months. He will want to spend time with his family and recuperate”, the network said, adding that it “looked forward to seeing him back in action, doing the vital job of journalism that he so clearly loves.”
The military-installed authorities have been incensed by Al-Jazeera’s coverage of their crackdown on Morsi supporters, in which more than 1,400 people have been killed in street clashes and at least 15,000 jailed.
Three other Al-Jazeera journalists with the network’s English-language channel are held in Egypt and on trial for spreading false news and supporting Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The trial of Australian Peter Greste, Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fadel Fahmy, producer Baher Mohamed and 17 other co-defendants has sparked an international outcry.
On Monday, the court set June 23 as the date for its verdict in the case.
Egyptian prosecutors have demanded the maximum penalty of 15 to 25 years in jail for all defendants.