On Second Day Of Mass Trial, Egyptian Judge Sentences 683 To Death

An Egyptian judge sentenced hundreds of people to death Monday, including the supreme leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is the judge's second mass-sentencing in recent weeks.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. Today brought another shocking sentence from an Egyptian court. A judge issued death sentences for nearly 700 people accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood movement. They were charged with committing violence during unrest last summer. This is from the same judge who outraged rights groups last month by sentencing more than 500 people to death. Today, he commuted all but 37 of those cases to life in prison.

The latest death sentences came, like the last time, after only a few hours in trial. Many were sentenced in absentia. NPR's Leila Fadel sent this report from Cairo.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: A video posted online shows the scene outside the courtroom in Minya, south of Cairo. Women wept in disbelief when the judge made his decision on the second day of this mass trial. 683 people were sentenced to death, including the Muslim Brotherhood's jailed leader, Mohammed Badie. That will further enrage the Islamist organization that is calling for the reinstatement of the ousted Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi.

In the video, relatives of the condemned screamed, our sons are not Muslim Brotherhood. One women cried out that her son doesn't even know how to pray. Her words are a telling sign of the times today as the government cracks down in Islamists. The state accuses the Muslim Brotherhood members of being terrorists, but the group denounces violence publically.

In a statement from London, the Brotherhood condemned what it called the chilling verdicts and vowed to continue to use peaceful means to end what it calls Egypt's military rule. The judge's decision to commute some of his death sentences to life in prison offered little solace to the families.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking foreign language)

FADEL: When we spoke to the sister of one of those men by phone, she asked us to use her nickname, (foreign language spoken), for fear of reprisals. She believes her brother is being punished because he criticized the government for mass killings last year at two pro-Brotherhood encampments and also because he's religious.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking foreign language)

FADEL: She says her brother, a high school counselor, was never given a chance to defend himself in court. Her story is a story repeated among hundreds of families in Minya. The judge's decisions are an indication of a flawed judicial system that is doing the political bidding of the state, says Mohammed Lotfy, co-founder of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.

MOHAMMED LOTFY: It's just crazy how one judge can pronounce such a verdict.

FADEL: He noted that these rulings came on the same day another court banned the activities of the pro-democracy movement April 6.

LOTFY: The judiciary is being used to settle (unintelligible) games and conflicts against the political opposition.

FADEL: Lawyers for the defendants say they will appeal. The death sentences in the latest case must also be reviewed by Egypt's top Islamic scholar. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Cairo.

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