An Egyptian court on Monday sentenced 529 supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to death on charges of killing and attacking policemen in one of the largest mass trials to be held in the country in decades. The verdicts, which came after only two sessions, are subject to appeal [AP report] and likely to be overturned, according to legal experts. Experts also say that the harshness of the rulings illustrates the lengths to which Egypt's courts have been politicized and due process has been ignored during a crackdown on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood [JURIST news archive] supporters following the president's removal in a military coup last July. During the first of the two trial sessions in Minya, the judge rejected requests by defense lawyers for more time to review trial documents for the defendants, leading to furious arguments. Defense lawyers were barred by security forces from the second session on Monday when verdicts and sentences were read.
Trials against Morsi supporters have been held as the Egyptian government attempts to re-stabilize. In February Egyptian authorities ordered 242 supporters of former president to face new trials [JURIST report] in relation to the violent protests against the new government. Earlier that week the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] Egypt to promote judicial and prosecutorial independence. Also in February, Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour [BBC profile] created [JURIST report] a higher court body to allow appeals of military tribunal rulings. Earlier that month, an Egyptian court acquitted [JURIST report] an Al Jazeera television cameraman and 61 others accused of participating in demonstrations in Cairo last July. In January Egyptian prosecutors charged [JURIST report] 20 Al Jazeera journalists with joining or conspiring with a terrorist group and broadcasting false images. Recently the Egyptian government took a major step in governmental reform through the drafting of a new constitution, which was ratified [JURIST report] by 98 percent of voters in January.