Egyptian state television has reported that senior officials in the banned Muslim Brotherhood group have been sentenced to death in a case related to the sit-in protest staged in mid-2013 by loyalists to ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
In a trial involving 739 defendants, the Cairo Criminal Court has sentenced senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders Essam al-Erian and Mohamed Beltagi, along with prominent Islamist preacher Safwat Higazi, to death by hanging, judicial sources told the Reuters news agency.
Spiritual leader Mohammed Badie has been sentenced to life in prison, along with 46 others. Charges ranged from murder to damaging property in Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, the site of the protests.
Thirty-one of the 75 defendants sentenced to death were tried in absentia. According to Egyptian state television, the sentences can still be appealed.
Crackdown on dissent, freedoms
Prize-winning photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zaid, known as Shawkan, was handed a five-year jail sentence after being arrested in August 2013 while covering the unrest. He is now likely to walk free "within a few days" having already spent five years in detention, his lawyer Karim Abdelrady said Saturday.
Rights groups, including Amnesty International, had said the mass trial reflected a crackdown on dissent and freedoms under President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, who was re-elected in March after his electoral challengers were sidelined.
Morsi was Egypt's first freely elected president. In 2013, Egypt's military, then led by el-Sissi, ousted Morsi amid widespread protest against his divisive rule. Muslim Brotherhood loyalists responded with protests focused on Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in a show of strength.
A month after the army ousted Morsi on August 14, the army moved in and began dispersing the sprawling protest camp. About 700 people were killed within hours at Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda Square, where another sit-in was being held.
The government claimed many protesters had been armed, and said 43 police officers were killed.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) subsequently called for an international investigation.
In the months that followed, hundreds more people were killed in street clashes with police.
Amnesty and HRW have said at least 40,000 people were arrested in the first year after Morsi was deposed.
Egyptian courts have subsequently sentenced hundreds to death or lengthy jail terms at mass trials that rights groups say have made a mockery of due process.
ipj/cmk (Reuters, dpa, AP)