An Egyptian court sentenced 188 people to death Tuesday pending the opinion of the country’s top religious authority, the latest mass death sentence handed down by the country’s judicial system despite widespread international criticism.
The 188 were charged over the killing of 11 policemen last year in Kerdasa, a restive town west of Cairo considered a militant stronghold. The attack, which saw the policemen’s bodies mutilated, is considered one of the country’s grisliest assaults on security forces.
The defendants also were accused of attempting to kill 10 more policemen, damaging a police station, setting police cars on fire and possessing heavy weapons.
The attack happened on the same day that security forces brutally cleared two protest camps of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s supporters, killing hundreds. Protesters were demanding the reinstatement of Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group.
Some 22,000 people have been arrested since Morsi’s ouster, including most of the Brotherhood’s top leaders, as well as large numbers of others swept up by police during pro-Morsi protests.
Tuesday’s sentence requires the opinion of Egypt’s top religious authority, the Grand Mufti. The court is scheduled to issue a final verdict Jan. 24. Defendants then can appeal.
Security officials said 143 of the 188 defendants are in custody. Those not held will receive automatic retrials under Egyptian law. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.
Egypt has been sharply criticized for recent mass death sentences largely targeting Islamists. Earlier this year, a judge in the southern city of Minya sentenced more than 1,200 people to death in two mass trials. The number of death sentences, initially the most in recent memory anywhere in the world, was later reduced to some 200. Those cases also involve attacks on police stations and the killing of police officers following the dispersal of the protest camps.
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