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Egypt court: Islamists sentenced to die are pro-Jewish 'demons'

Egypt court defends swift mass death sentences by branding defendants as emerging 'from depths of hell' to promote teachings of Talmud
Egypt's military-installed authorities are accused of using the judiciary as a blunt tool of repression (AFP)

An Egyptian court that sentenced to death 37 Islamists and handed life terms to 492 others defended its verdict on Sunday, saying the men were "demons" who followed Jewish scripture.

The court in the central city of Minya had triggered international outrage earlier this year for sentencing to death hundreds of alleged supporters of democratically elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in two separate mass trials which only lasted minutes.

In one trial in March 529 were sentenced to death for the killing of a police officer but the court later upheld the sentencing against only 37 of them, while the rest were jailed for life.

In a statement Sunday to justify its decision, the court said: "The accused came out of the depths of hell... to plunder Egypt's wealth, tyrannise its people and they killed the deputy commissioner."

It described the men as "enemies of the nation" who used mosques to promote the teachings of "their holy book, the Talmud," the central scripture of Judaism.

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The military toppled Morsi in July last year following mass protests against his year in power, and security forces launched a crackdown on his supporters, killing hundreds and arresting thousands more

In April the same court in Minya handed the death penalty to 683 people it said were supporters Morsi, accusing them of murder and the attempted murder of policemen.

Judges are due to confirm the 683 death sentences on June 21.

The wave of mass sentences in Egypt had sparked charges that the military-installed authorities are using the judiciary as a blunt tool of repression.

Egypt criminalises flag desecration

Meanwhile, Egypt's outgoing interim president enacted a law on Saturday making it illegal to desecrate the national flag or refuse to stand for the national anthem, his office said.

Those who break the new law will face up to one year in jail.

The government drafted the law late last year amid heightened nationalistic fervour after the military toppled Morsi and unleashed a crackdown on his supporters.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former army chief who ousted Morsi, won an overwhelming victory in last week's presidential election and is to take office next month.

The law, one of the last that will be enacted by outgoing interim president Adly Mansour, also stipulates a fine of up to 30,000 Egyptian pounds (about $4,300, 3,200 euros) for desecrating the flag or disrespecting the anthem, his office said in a statement.

Several Salafi members of Egypt's parliament, which was dissolved in 2012, had sparked outrage when they refused to stand for the national anthem. Some of them reject displays of nationalism, which they view as a Western innovation.

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