An Egyptian court said it would transfer the cases of 75 people accused of security-related offences, including senior Muslim Brotherhood figures, to Egypt’s top religious authority to decide whether they should be sentenced to death.
They are among more than 700 people accused of illegal protest and murder over a 2013 sit-in which ended in the deaths of hundreds of Brotherhood supporters and dozens of police when security forces broke it up violently. The accused face a range of sentences including execution and life in prison.
Egyptian law requires any capital sentence to be referred to Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, Egypt’s highest Islamic legal official, for an opinion before any execution can take place.
The Mufti’s decision is not legally binding, but is rarely ignored by the courts. In 2014 the Mufti rejected a death sentence proposed for the leader of the outlawed Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, who is part of the same case.
Badie has since been sentenced to life in prison.
The 75 cases transferred on Saturday to the Mufti for his verdict include those of senior Brotherhood leaders Issam al-Aryan, Mohamed Baltagi and prominent Islamist preachers Safwat Higazi and Wagdi Ghoneim, judicial sources said. Forty-four of the accused are in prison awaiting their sentence, and 31 have been tried in absentia.
Rights groups have criticized the trial of more than 700 people in the same case, saying they include journalists and peaceful protesters.
Amnesty International said on Saturday the trial was unfair, and that those accused had been denied the right to present an adequate defense.
“Egyptian authorities have never questioned or prosecuted any of the security force personnel who took part in the massacre,” it said in a statement.
The 2013 sit-in at Rabaa Adawiya square in Cairo took place after the military, led by current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in a popularly-backed coup.
Amnesty International says the dispersal of the sit-in in August that year killed more than 800 protesters. Egypt’s government said many protesters were armed, and that 43 police were killed.
The final sentencing in the case is expected on Sept. 8 after the Mufti has given his ruling, judicial sources said.