Egypt puts Muslim Brotherhood leader, 682 others on trial
The leader of Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and 682 others went on trial today on charges including murder, their lawyer said, a day after more than 500 supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi were sentenced to death.
Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, 70, and the others were being tried in the same court in Minya Province that condemned 529 members of the Islamist group to death, in what rights groups said was the biggest mass death sentence handed out in Egypt's modern history.
Protests erupted after today's trial began, with police firing teargas to deter hundreds of demonstrators.
The UN human rights office said the mass death sentences contravened international law. The European Union and the United States also criticised the ruling, as did rights groups.
"Yesterday was ... a death sentence for the credibility and independence of Egypt's criminal justice system," said Nicholas Piachaud, a campaigner at Amnesty International.
"There is little hope of the 683 people indicted in this latest trial of receiving fair proceedings before the same judge who yesterday handed down death sentences so readily."
Justice Ministry official Abdel Atheem al-Ashari defended the death sentences, saying in a statement in response to the ruling that the separation between the state and the judiciary is one of the main principles of any democratic system.
There are no signs that Western powers will back their dismay with action to push for greater democracy in Egypt, which is of strategic importance because of its peace treaty with Israel and contains the Suez Canal, a global shipping lane.
Egypt has cracked down hard on the Brotherhood since army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, in July, and installed a government.
In August, security forces killed hundreds of Brotherhood supporters who staged a long sit-in to demand Morsi's reinstatement. Thousands of others were arrested and top leaders, including Morsi himself, are also on trial.
Defence lawyers boycotted today's court session - attended by 60 of the defendants - after complaining of irregularities. Reporters were barred from the courtroom.
"We refrained from attending ... because the judge has violated criminal law procedures and did not allow the (lawyers) to present their defence," Adel Ali, a member of the defence team, told reporters.
He said those in the dock did not have an opportunity to defend themselves after their lawyers quit the proceedings.
Seventy-seven of the defendants were in custody while the rest had been released on bail or were on the run, he said. The verdicts are due on April 28.