Rights groups blast 75 death sentences by Egyptian court

Nearly a dozen rights groups on Tuesday condemned the passing of death sentences by an Egyptian court against 75 people, including top leaders of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.

A statement by the 11 organizations rejected the trial's proceedings, saying they exemplified the "degraded standards of fairness, impartiality and independence that define Egypt's dysfunctional judiciary." They also demanded an immediate end to capital punishment and a moratorium on executions.

The statement was the latest in a flurry of condemnations by rights groups, as well as the U.N. human rights commission, of Saturday's verdicts. The case involves 739 defendants who faced charges ranging from murder and damaging property to incitement of violence. Beside those sentenced to death, 374 received 15 years and 215 five years. A total of 23 defendants received 10-year jail terms. Charges were dropped against five defendants because they died. The sentences can be appealed.

The case is rooted in a 2013 protest by supporters of Mohammed Morsi, a stalwart of the Brotherhood whose one-year rule of Egypt ended when the military, then led by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, ousted him. It is widely believed that breaking up the sit-in along with another one across Cairo, also staged by Islamists, left an estimated 900 people dead.

Amnesty International also blasted the death sentences just hours after they were passed, describing the trial as "disgraceful." A day later, Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. human rights commissioner, warned that it would be an "irreversible miscarriage of justice" if the death sentences were carried out.

Egypt's foreign ministry rejected her criticism in a strongly worded statement, saying that her comments amounted to an "unacceptable encroachment upon the work of the Egyptian judicial system and those presiding over it." It also called on Bachelet to "observe impartiality and objectivity" and focus on promoting human rights.

Since Morsi's ouster, authorities have jailed thousands of Islamists along with some of the secular, pro-democracy activists behind a 2011 popular uprising that forced autocrat Hosni Mubarak to step down after 29 years in power. The crackdown has also enforced tighter controls over the media as well as civil society groups, rolling back most of the freedoms won by the 2011 uprising.

The government maintains that stability, security and reviving Egypt's battered economy are its top priorities and insists on what it sees as a wider interpretation of human rights beyond freedoms, which include the right to housing, education and medical care.