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Egypt sentences more than 680 to death

Relatives of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi were distraught Monday over the news of the death sentences.

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

Relatives of Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi were distraught Monday over the news of the death sentences.

MINYA, Egypt — An Egyptian court here Monday sentenced to death the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and about 680 other people after a swift mass trial on charges of inciting or committing acts of violence that led to the destruction of a police station and the killing of an officer.

The verdict, after a trial lasting only a few minutes, came just a month after the same judge drew condemnation from around the world for sentencing 529 other people to death in a similarly lightning-fast mass trial.

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The judge, Sayedd Yousef, affirmed the death sentences Monday of about 40 of the defendants in that mass trial and commuted the others to life in prison, which is understood here to mean 25 years.

The verdicts Monday and last month are subject to appeal.

Many of those punished, including Mohamed Badie, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, were sentenced to death for lesser crimes than murder, including committing or inciting acts of violence.

Both sets of trials involved sentences in absentia for many defendants who are still at large, and if they are arrested all will receive a retrial. But there has been little, if any, public criticism of the decisions from within the Egyptian judiciary, once regarded as a bastion of relative liberalism within Egypt’s authoritarian system.

The speed and scale of the latest batch of sentences, in defiance of international outrage at the earlier one, appeared to underscore the judiciary’s energetic support for the new military-led government’s sweeping crackdown on its political opponents, including Islamist supporters of the ousted president Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as more liberal groups.

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In a separate ruling on Monday, a Cairo court banned the activities of the April 6 group, a liberal organization that spearheaded the revolt against President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The group continued its work opposing police brutality and pushing for democratic reforms under Morsi, and it has continued to defend the right to dissent since his military ouster last summer.

On Monday, a Cairo court ruled that the group had been collaborating with foreign powers and “committing acts that distort the image of the Egyptian state,” according to the official state newspaper.

The group’s leader, Ahmed Maher, and a cofounder, Mohamed Adel, are both already serving three-year sentences on charges of organizing an unauthorized street protest against the new military-backed government.

The rulings in the city of Minya, on the other hand, involved Morsi’s Islamist supporters. Both sets of cases related to a violent backlash against the police in August after the security forces used deadly force to break up sit-ins held by Morsi’s supporters to protest his ouster, killing as many as 1,000 people, according to estimates by independent rights groups.

In each of the batches of sentences issued Monday and last month, however, only one police officer was alleged to have been killed, and none of those sentenced to death on Monday was charged with participating in his murder.

Badie, who was in Cairo at the time of the attacks against the police, had repeatedly emphasized nonviolence in his public remarks in the period leading up the crackdown and the backlash against it.

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