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CAIRO: An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced 75 people, including prominent Islamist leaders, to death and jailed more than 600 others over a 2013 sit-in that ended with the killing of hundreds of protesters by security forces.

The court decision concluded the mass trial of some 700 people accused of offences including murder and inciting violence during the pro-Muslim Brotherhood protest at Rabaa Adawiya square in Cairo.

The government says many protesters were armed and that eight members of the security forces were killed. It initially said more than 40 police personnel had died. Rights groups say more than 800 protesters died in the single most deadly incident during the unrest that followed Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising.

Amnesty International condemned Saturday’s judgement, calling the trial “disgraceful”.

In Saturday’s hearing at the vast Tora prison complex south of Cairo, a criminal court sentenced to death by hanging several prominent Islamists including senior Brotherhood leaders Essam al-Erian and Mohamed Beltagi and preacher Safwat Higazi.

Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Mohamed Badie and dozens more were given life sentences, judicial sources said. Others received jail sentences ranging from five to 15 years.

Cases were dropped against five people who had died while in prison, judicial sources said, without giving further details.

Following weeks of protests in 2013 against the ouster of then President Mohamed Morsi by the military — led at the time by Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi — security forces violently broke up the demonstrators at Rabaa square.

They arrested hundreds of people who were charged with inciting violence, murder and organising illegal protests.

Rights groups have criticised the trial for including many peaceful protesters and journalists.

An award-winning photographer who covered the protests, Mahmoud Abu Zeid, was sentenced to five years in jail, but would soon be released because his five years in detention during the trial are counted towards the sentence, judicial sources said. Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan, was awarded a United Nations press freedom prize this year. He was charged with belonging to a banned group and possessing firearms.

“We condemn today’s verdict in the strongest terms,” Amnesty International said in a statement.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2018