Egyptian court sentences 10 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death

Critics say the judiciary is being used by the state in a crackdown on dissent
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An Egyptian court has sentenced 10 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death for alleged offences including inciting violence and blocking a road.

The men were not present to face the charges on Saturday and are believed to be in hiding amid a crackdown by the military-led government.

It was part of a mass trial of almost 50 people associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, including Abdul Rahman al-Barr, a member of the Brotherhood's guidance council.

He and other senior members will be sentenced at a hearing next month, Judge Hassan Fareed said.

The alleged offences happened during protests after the army toppled the elected President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

His party, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been banned and branded a terrorist group by the Government.

The death sentences will have to be approved by Egypt’s highest religious authority, the grand mufti, for review but it is considered a formality as the court can review or ignore his ruling.

Still to be sentenced are the Islamist movement's general guide, Mohamed Badie, and senior member Mohamed El-Beltagy, along with former ministers from Morsi’s Government.

Speaking from the cage where defendants are held in Egyptian courtrooms, Beltagy yelled condemnations at the judiciary, which he said was serving Egypt's militarised state.

Egypt's biggest political force until last year, the Brotherhood has been driven underground.

Hundreds of supporters and members of the security forces have been killed or detained by security forces since last year’s military coup.

Secular activists are also in jail. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said last month 16 journalists were imprisoned in Egypt.

Many see the judiciary as a tool in the state’s crackdown on dissent.

Courts have recently sentenced hundreds of people, often after brief hearings where little evidence is offered by the prosecution, according to human rights groups.

In April, a judge at another mass trial recommended the death penalty or 683 people over an attack on a police station in Minya.

Additional reporting by Reuters