A court in Egypt convicted 529 supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and sentenced them to death on charges of murdering a policeman and attacking police officers during violence last summer. The majority of the defendants were tried in absentia while more than 150 stood trial in unprecedentedly rushed hearings that lasted only two days. Sixteen suspects were acquitted. The verdicts—and the extremely harsh sentences—are likely to be overturned on appeal, rights lawyers said after the trial ended.
"This is way over the top and unacceptable," says an attorney who heads a rights center in Cairo. "It turns the judiciary in Egypt from a tool for achieving justice to an instrument for taking revenge," he says. "This verdict could be a precedent both in the history of Egyptian courts and, perhaps, tribunals elsewhere in the world," he added. The mass nature of the trial testifies to the determination of Egypt's military-backed government to break the Muslim Brotherhood and leave no room for political reconciliation with the country's largest Islamist bloc, from which Morsi hails. (Read more Muslim Brotherhood stories.)