MINYA - An Egyptian court sentenced Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie and 682 other alleged Islamists to death Monday, a lawyer and prosecutor said, after two brief sessions the defence partly boycotted.
The same court in the southern province of Minya also reversed 492 of 529 death sentences it passed in March, commuting most of those to life in prison. The court, presided over by judge Said Youssef Sabry, had sparked an international outcry with its initial sentencing last month amid an extensive crackdown on supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Under Egyptian law, death sentences are referred to the top Islamic scholar for an advisory opinion before being ratified. A court may choose to commute the sentences, which can later be challenged at an appeals court.
The judge will confirm the verdict on June 21.
Of the 683 sentenced on Monday, only about 50 are in custody. The others have a right to a retrial if they hand themselves in. Monday's hearing lasted just 10 minutes, said Khaled Elkomy, a defence lawyers who was in court.
The verdict was the first against Badie, spiritual head of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, in the several trials he faces on various charges along with Morsi himself and other Brotherhood leaders.
Several female relatives waiting outside the courtroom fainted on hearing news of the verdict. "Where is the justice?" others chanted.
Some 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. Karima Fadl, the mother of a man whose death sentence was commuted, said: "My son Khaled received a life sentence.
"It is not better than a death sentence. It is still an injustice. He did nothing wrong."
- 'Breach of international law' -
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 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.
Lawyer Elkomy claims that 60 percent 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 by human rights group Avaaz said.
The government has defended the court's handling of the first mass death sentences, 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 Morsi'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 Morsi, Egypt's first elected and civilian leader.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian court on Monday banned the April 6 youth movement that spearheaded the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak and has protested against the current military-installed regime, a judicial official said.The court issued the ruling based on a complaint that accused the group of defaming the country and colluding with foreign parties.
April 6 had also opposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was toppled by the army in July, but turned on the military-installed regime when the authorities cracked down on dissidents.
Its leader Ahmed Maher was sentenced to three years in prison in December for violating a law that bans all but police-sanctioned protests.