March 25, 2014 - 14:15 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - An Egyptian court on Tuesday, March 25, opened another mass trial of Islamist suspects, with 683 defendants — including the Muslim Brotherhood's top leader — facing an array of charges, from murder and inciting violence to sabotage, the Associated Press reports.
The proceedings in Minya, south of Cairo, came a day after the same court handed down death sentences to nearly 530 suspected backers of ousted President Mohammed Morsi over a deadly attack on a police station.
That verdict, which capped a swift, two-day mass trial in which defense attorneys were not allowed to present their case, drew wide public and international criticism.
The charges in Tuesday's proceedings also stemmed from rioting last August sparked by the security forces' storming of two Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo that killed over 600 people.
The dispersal of the protest camps came weeks after the military overthrew Morsi following days of massive protests in which millions demanded he step down for abusing power.
Only 68 of the 683 defendants were in the dock on Tuesday. The rest are being tried in absentia. A handful of other defendants held in the case, including the Brotherhood's spiritual leader Mohammed Badei and other senior figures who are jailed in Cairo, were not present at the trial in Minya. Authorities cited security reasons for not bringing them to the hearings.
Defense lawyers in the case boycotted Tuesday's proceedings in a protest over Monday's death penalties handed by Judge Said Youssef, who was also presiding over the session Tuesday.
Monday's swift verdicts and the harsh sentences stunned human rights activists and raised fears that the rule of law is being swept away in the crackdown waged by the military-backed interim government against Morsi's Brotherhood since his overthrow last July.
In Minya, roads around the court were blocked by cement blocks and metal barricades, manned by security forces and masked special forces. Armored vehicles patrolled the streets and shops in the vicinity of the court were shut down.