By Gamal Abdel Muaaz
MINYA, Egypt (AA) - An Egyptian court sentenced 187 political dissidents to life in prison (at a maximum of 25 years) on various charges, including the storming of a police station in the southern Minya province in 2013, according to a legal source close to the case.
Khaled al-Komi, a lawyer for the defendants, told Anadolu Agency that a military court in the southern Assiut province had sentenced on Thursday 187 supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted and imprisoned in a 2013 military coup.
The defendants had been convicted of breaking into government buildings, including a Minya police station, following the violent dispersal in August 2013 of two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo in which hundreds -- some say thousands -- of Morsi supporters were killed by police.
"Today’s sentences are only preliminary; sentencing by Egyptian military courts is generally done in two stages," al-Komi explained.
According to the lawyer, the Assiut military court held a total of seven sessions in the case, in which the defendants had denied the charges.
In March of last year, Egypt’s public prosecutor referred the case to military prosecutors.
Charges against the defendants included "breaking into a police station; sabotaging public facilities; incitement to violence and demonstrations; and affiliation with a banned group" -- the latter charge referring to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood group, of which Morsi was a leading member.
In this regard it is worthy to note that, in late 2014, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (who as defense minister had led the 2013 coup against Morsi) decreed that assaults on public facilities would henceforth be legally considered assaults on military property -- meaning alleged violators, including civilians, could be referred to military courts.
At the time, the move was roundly criticized by rights groups and NGOs devoted to safeguarding civil liberties, which voiced doubts that civilians would receive fair trials in military tribunals.
Notably, a halt to Egypt’s practice of trying civilians in military courts was one of the main demands of the revolutionaries who spearheaded the 2011 popular uprising that forced autocratic President Hosni Mubarak to step down after 30 years in power.
In the almost three years since the coup that ousted Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, the Egyptian authorities have launched a harsh crackdown on his supporters and members of his Muslim Brotherhood group, killing hundreds and throwing tens of thousands behind bars.
Ali Abo Rezeg had contributed to this report