Egypt Announces New Trial for 919 Islamists

Egypt's chief prosecutor orders trials for 919 suspected Islamists, days after 529 Brotherhood supporters were sentenced to death.

Elad Benari,

Muslim Brotherhood supporters
Muslim Brotherhood supporters
AFP photo

Egypt is continuing its crackdown on Islamists and on Wednesday its chief prosecutor ordered two trials for a total of 919 people, reports The Associated Press (AP).

The charges against the defendants include murder and indicate a push with a series of mass tribunals of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

The policy of mass trials sparked uproar among rights groups after a judge this week issued death sentences against more than 520 defendants on charges of killing a policeman during an attack on a police station last summer.

On Wednesday, students in several universities, most of them Islamists, held protests Wednesday against the death sentences, turning into clashes with security forces. An 18-year-old student was killed in the violence at Cairo University, the Health Ministry said.

Egyptian authorities are holding a series of trials in a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other supporters of Morsi since the military removed him in July. Some 16,000 have been arrested over the past months, including most of the Brotherhood's top leaders.

On Tuesday, a day after the 529 were sentenced, the trial of a further 682 Islamists began, among them the Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie, who was arrested last August after a brief spell in hiding.

The death sentences issued Monday by a court in the city of Minya, south of Cairo, brought an outcry from rights groups and criticism from the United Nations, European Union and United States over the cursory trial, reported AP.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement that he was "deeply, deeply troubled, by the verdict. It simply defies logic."

A State Department official said on Monday that “it simply does not seem possible that a fair review of evidence and testimony consistent with international standards could be accomplished with over 529 defendants after a two-day trial.”

"We continue to call on the Egyptian government to ensure that all those detained in Egypt are afforded fair proceedings that respect civil liberties and due process and are consistent with international standards. The law must be applied equitably and free of political bias," said the official.

And on Tuesday, the United States warned Egypt that executing supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood may affect the aid that Washington provides to Cairo.

Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf called the sentencing of the 529 "shocking" and added, "If Egypt's leaders want to ensure a political transition to democracy that ultimately improves the stability and economic prospects of their country and their people, and that's respected by the Egyptian people, they must unequivocally ensure an environment that is free of intimidation or retribution.”

Harf made clear that the way Egypt proceeds regarding the trials and death sentences will have consequences for future American aid.

The United States has already announced it would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Egypt over its displeasure with the military's pace of restoring democracy following the ouster of Morsi.