Egypt plans mass trial of 500 Islamists

Cairo - Nearly 500 alleged Islamists will go on trial on July 16 over violence in which 44 people died, state media said on Tuesday, the latest in a string of mass trials slammed internationally.

The trial is part of a relentless crackdown targeting supporters of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, ousted by the army in July 2013.

Member of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Beltagy, left, speaks during his trial at a court in Cairo. Picture: Al Youm Al Saabi Newspaper. Credit: REUTERS

Hundreds have already been sentenced to death in speedy mass trials condemned by the United Nations and international rights groups.

Since Morsi's ouster, a government crackdown on his supporters has seen 15 000 people jailed and sparked clashes in which more than 1 400 people have died.

The 494 defendants will stand trial over violent clashes that erupted in August 2013 in central Cairo in which 44 people died and 59 were wounded, including soldiers and policemen, Egypt's state news agency MENA said.

The fighting broke out in the Ramses neighbourhood at Al-Fath mosque, occupied by Morsi supporters during their standoff with security forces, days after the dispersal of two Cairo Islamist protest camps in which hundreds were killed.

Prosecutors have charged the defendants with “murder, attempted murder, assaulting policemen, carrying weapons and damaging public and private installations”, MENA said.

Last week, an Egyptian court confirmed death sentences on 183 Islamists, including Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Monday slammed Egypt's mass trials, saying they were “obscene and a complete travesty of justice”.

Journalists working for Al-Jazeera television network were on Monday handed jail terms of between seven and 10 years.

The military-installed authorities have been incensed by the Qatari network's coverage of their crackdown on Morsi supporters.