Minya Criminal Court in its second session sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death for violence following the dispersal of the Rabea al-Adaweya and Nahda sit-ins last August.
The defendants were handed down the sentences for storming and burning the Matay police station in Minya, killing a police officer, attempting to kill two others, stealing weapons and releasing inmates, state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram reported.
A report by the Associated Press said that more than 400 defendants in the case were tried in absentia, quoting defense lawyer Khaled al-Koumi.
The sentence is awaiting the grand mufti`s ratification. The Minya Criminal Court will issue the final verdict on 28 April, Al-Ahram reported, following the mufti’s ratification.
Ahmed Shabeeb, a member of the defense team on the case, told Mada Masr that they will appeal the verdict.
He described the ruling as a “judicial fumble that will not be forgiven.”
“We do not even consider it a ruling,” he told Mada Masr, “it does not carry the truth, it wastes it and conceals it.”
Local media reported that this is the largest number of defendants handed down death penalties in Egypt’s modern history.
Seventeen others were acquitted in the case.
Sherif Agaiby, an activist from Minya, told Mada Masr that there were minor skirmishes outside the court by defendants’ families following the verdict, but that security forces soon dispersed them.
He added, however, that the ruling has sewed panic among residents in Minya, with parents rushing to schools to pick up their children in anticipation of a possible backlash by Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
Earlier state media reported that protesters set fire to a school in Minya, however this report was quickly denied by the Interior Ministry, MENA reported.
On Tuesday the same court will start trying 683 defendants facing similar charges, including Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie.
Defense lawyers had filed a case against the presiding judge Said Youssef for turning down a request to postpone the case and allow time to review case documents, which is in violation of the law, state-owned news agency MENA reported.
Shabeeb questioned how the court could reach a verdict in a case with over 4,000-page documents in just forty-five minutes, citing several irregularities that occurred during today’s as well as Saturday’s court hearing, including not listening to all witnesses’ testimonies.
On Saturday, when the first hearing for the case took place, Shabeeb said the judge vowed that he would rule on the case in the next session, ignoring requests by the defense team to stand before another court, which would have suspended any ruling in the case.
He added that the judge on Saturday had asked security to surround the bench, preventing anyone from approaching it.
Shabeeb lamented that the “those who insult and violate the law are the judiciary themselves.”
Nonetheless, he explained that the defense team can only resort to the law and will appeal the verdict.
"This is the first time in my information in history to have this number of people sentenced to death in the same case, after almost no hearings and with such an imbalance in the number of victims. It is a catastrophe," Gamal Eid, lawyer and executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), told Mada Masr. "Even though there can be appeals and processes through which the ruling may change, the disaster will remain that there was a judge who issued this ruling after a quick hearing."
Eid called the ruling "political but also a stupid political move," one that could be seen as a "gain" for the Brotherhood. "This will be used to show how Egypt is associated with the lack of any proper judiciary," he claimed. Eid added that ANHRI has lawyers defending Muslim Brotherhood political prisoners on other cases but not on this one. "We have that many lawyers and countless cases. We cannot handle all of them."
A wave of violence gripped Minya after former President Mohamed Morsi was forcibly removed from power. Violence then spiked after the August dispersals. The governorate’s churches and Christian residents have repeatedly come under attack, on top of state institutions.
Hundreds were arrested in the governorate following the dispersals on 14 August.
[This article originally appeared on Mada Masr.]