An Egyptian judge on Monday in two separate cases sentenced 720 alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including the group's leader, Mohammed Badie, to death for committing violent acts, defense attorney Tareq Ibrahim told Efe.
The death sentences are not yet final, as the court in the southern city of Minya ordered the cases of 683 of the defendants to be submitted to Egypt's grand mufti, the country's top religious authority, for review in accordance with Egyptian law.
Most of the defendants in the unprecedented cases have been tried in absentia, and among them are several Islamist leaders, including Badie, who are facing charges of attacking public institutions and the police station in the Al Edua district during protests after the military's ousting of President Mohammed Mursi last July.
In another case, Judge Said Yusef, upheld the death sentences for 37 defendants but converted the sentences of another 491 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to life behind bars for their involvement in anti-government violence.
Some 350 of the second group of defendants are fugitives from justice, but they had all been sentenced to death on March 24 and their cases forwarded to the grand mufti on a provisional basis for the rendering of a non-binding ruling.
The judge passed sentence on Monday, although his rulings may be appealed by the defendants.
All the defendants were said to have been involved in attacks on police stations and government buildings in Minya and the murder of a police colonel in the Matay area.
The two "macro-trials" in Minya, involving more than 1,200 followers of the Muslim Brotherhood - although only 267 people have been arrested - were carried out under strict security measures with restricted access to the courthouse and a heavy military presence, Efe was able to determine.
The families of the defendants burst out in tears and cries of anguish and rage when the sentences were handed down, and they insisted that the accused are all innocent.
The crimes for which the defendants were brought to trial were committed during the wave of violence in Minya last August staged to protest the police operation to dislodge pro-Morsi demonstrators from their camp in Cairo, a move that resulted in hundreds of deaths.
Another 919 members and followers of the Muslim Brotherhood are set to be brought to trial on similar charges, although no date has been set for these two additional "macro-trials," which also involve Badie.
At the end of last year, Egyptian authorities banned the Muslim Brotherhood and declared it to be a "terrorist group," and they have been engaged in a heavy crackdown on the Islamist organization since the Mursi government was toppled. EFE