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Egyptian Court Condemns 183 To Death In Mass Trial

An Egyptian court on Monday sentenced 183 people to death on charges of killing policemen during an uprising in 2013. The convictions were handed down as part of a mass death sentence, as the Egyptian government cracks down on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it considers a terrorist organization.

The sentencing stems from a bloody attack on a police station in the village of Kirdasah near Cairo, a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 11 policemen were killed and reportedly mutilated by supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi. The attack occurred after security forces cleared an anti-government demonstration, that resulted in the death of hundreds of protesters.

NPR's Cairo bureau chief, Leila Fadel reports, there have been many hasty and severe sentences in criminal courts over the past year. Last spring, one judge in the town of Minya condemned more than 1200 prisoners to death in two mass trials. Many of the sentences were overturned on appeal.

Thousands of people have been arrested in Egypt over the past year as the Egyptian government tries to round up supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group's leader, Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, is currently in jail awaiting trial. He was ousted in a coup in 2013 that was led by current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Most of those who were arrested and convicted are Muslims, but the Los Angeles Times says others are being swept up in the power struggle between security forces and supporters of Morsi.

"Lawyers said many of the defendants rounded up after the police station attack were not even present at the scene, and that some of those arrested were Coptic Christians, not Islamist followers of Morsi," the paper reported. "Other defendants included boys and elderly men."

The U.S. State Department condemned Monday's mass death sentence, where the accused are not seen as given a fair hearing. The LA Times says: "Defense lawyers said the mass tribunals made it impossible for the accused to receive a fair hearing, with individuals given no opportunity to hear evidence against them or offer any defense."

"Today's death sentences are yet another example of the bias of the Egyptian criminal justice system," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Program Director at Amnesty International, in an interview with Reuters.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.