CAIRO An Egyptian court sentenced 10 supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to death in absentia on Saturday but postponed the sentencing of its leader and other senior members, judicial sources said.
Those sentenced were convicted on charges including inciting violence and blocking a major road north of Cairo during protests after the army toppled Islamist President Mohamed Mursi last July.
All 10 were assumed to be in hiding amid a state crackdown on the group since Mursi's ouster. One of those sentenced was Abdul Rahman al-Barr, a member of the Brotherhood's Guidance Council, the movement's executive board.
Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, a well-known Salafi preacher who fled to Qatar after Mursi was toppled, was also sentenced in absentia.
Death sentence recommendations in Egypt are passed on to the country's grand mufti, the highest religious authority, for his review. The court can ignore his opinion and its rulings can be appealed.
Judge Hassan Fareed said the verdict for the remaining defendants would be announced at a hearing on July 5.
Those 38 defendants include the Islamist movement's General Guide Mohamed Badie and senior member Mohamed El-Beltagy, along with former ministers from Mursi's government.
Al-Barr, a Muslim scholar, was nominated by the Brotherhood for the influential position of grand mufti, the country's top cleric, during Mursi's year in office.
"Down with the military court!" shouted the defendants in the courtroom.
Speaking from the cage where defendants are held in Egyptian courtrooms, Beltagy yelled condemnations against the judiciary, which he said was serving Egypt's militarized state.
He was given a one-year prison sentence in April for insulting the judiciary, the first sentence handed to a leader of the organisation since it was outlawed.
Egypt's biggest political force until last year, the Brotherhood has been driven underground and declared a terrorist organisation.
Badie was among 683 people sentenced to death in April.
Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters and members of the security forces have been killed since Mursi's ouster and thousands detained by security forces.
Secular activists are also in jail. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said last month 16 journalists were imprisoned in Egypt.
The military-backed government in place since Mursi's ouster accuses the Brotherhood of turning to violence. The group denies that accusation.
Critics of the judiciary say it is a tool in a state crackdown against dissent.
Courts have recently sentenced hundreds of the accused, often after brief hearings where scant evidence is offered by the prosecution, rights groups say.
Activists also protest the stiff penalties on defendants seen as holding views opposed to the government, compared to sentences for members of the security forces convicted of crimes.
A Cairo appeals court on Saturday cancelled a prison sentence against a police officer convicted in connection with the deaths of 39 people last year during political violence, judicial sources said.
It was not immediately clear if the officer would be released from jail pending a new investigation by the prosecutor's office ordered by the judge.
(Reporting by Maggie Fick, Mostafa Salem and Ali Abdelati; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Sophie Hares)