Morsi supporters sentenced by Egyptian court

Largest capital punishment case in modern Egypt

An Egyptian court has sentenced 529 members of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood to death, in what is the country's largest capital punishment case on record.

The defendants, who are supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, have been convicted on charges of killing a single police officer, the attempted murder of two other police officers, and attacking a police station in the southern province of Minya in August.

The court in Minya, some 250 km south of Cairo, made its findings on 24 March after two days of hearings. It also acquitted 16 people.

The unprecedented ruling, which is expected to be appealed, comes as a second group of 683 Morsi supporters, including the Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, goes on trial on 25 March on charges including incitement to kill.

The Muslim Brotherhood has denounced the death sentences, with a spokesman describing the verdict as coming from a "kangaroo court." The ruling has also been condemned by Washington and by human rights groups, although the Egyptian foreign ministry has been quick to underline the independence of the court.

For many observers the ruling marks a sharp escalation in the interim government's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood movement since the military removed Morsi from power in July.

The Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organisation in December, and thousands of its supporters have been jailed since Morsi was ousted.

Morsi himself faces a number of separate trials including one for inciting the killing of protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012, following a decree that awarded him sweeping powers.