CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court will on Monday pass final judgment on 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters sentenced to death last month, in a case that has provoked outrage among Western governments and rights groups.
The preliminary death sentences were issued on March 24 - just two days after the mass trial began - and relate to violence in which a policeman was killed in August in the southern province of Minya.
The United States and European Union said they were “appalled” at the ruling. The trial had only one session - a one-hour hearing in which lawyers for the defense were prevented from presenting arguments, and the prosecution offered no evidence, rights groups say.
The court will also issue verdicts on another 683 people accused of violence last year in Minya, including Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s General Guide, or top leader.
He is charged with crimes including inciting violence that followed the army overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last July. The session could mark the first major verdict against any Brotherhood leader.
Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters and members of the security forces have been killed in political violence and thousands of Islamists and some secular dissidents jailed by authorities since the army toppled Mursi.
After imposing the preliminary death sentences on March 24, judge Saeed Yousef referred his ruling to the state mufti, Egypt’s highest religious authority. His non-binding opinion is always sought in cases of capital punishment.
Were Yousef to uphold his death sentences, the subsequent appeals process could result in lesser penalties. Most of those convicted are not in detention and were tried in absentia, with 147 in court.
“Tomorrow’s verdict is happening after a speedy trial where the rights of defendants were grossly disrespected,” said Diana Eltahawy, director of the criminal justice unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
On Sunday, judicial sources said around 60 other Brotherhood supporters were sentenced for crimes linked to protests, such as obstructing traffic and using violence against the police.
Two thirds of them were sentenced in Minya by judge Yousef. He also jailed 13 Brotherhood supporters to between five and 65 years on Saturday for similar crimes.
The same judge is due to rule in the case against the 70-year-old Badie, accused of inciting violence that led to the killing of another policeman in Minya.
Egypt’s biggest political party until last year, the Brotherhood has been outlawed and driven underground.
The army-backed government accuses the Brotherhood of turning to violence. The group denies the accusation.
The United States and European Union urged Egypt “to restore the rule of law” after last month’s mass death sentences.
Egypt’s relations with the United States - the source of $1.5 billion in annual aid, most of it to the Egyptian military - have been strained in the three years since the overthrow of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy is currently on an official visit to the United States, describinged it as a trip to “redirect relations between Egypt and America”. Fahmy is due to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday.
The United States froze some of its military aid to Egypt last October following Mursi’s overthrow and the state’s violent crackdown on his supporters.
Washington said it would withhold deliveries of tanks, fighter aircraft and other military equipment, as well as $250 million in cash, until the government made progress on democracy and human rights.
But last week, Washington said it would deliver 10 attack helicopters to help the government in its fight against Islamist militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
Former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the overthrow of Mursi, is expected to easily win a May 26-27 presidential election. The coalition of Brotherhood-allied Islamist parties announced in a statement they would boycott the election, describing it as “a farce”.
Editing by Michael Georgy and Andrew Roche