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Egyptian court hands down 75 death sentences over protests in 2013

Several Muslim Brotherhood leaders convicted but verdict postponed for Mahmud Abu Zeid, who photographed demonstrations
About 800 people were killed within hours at Rabaa al-Adawiya (AFP)

An Egyptian court has sentenced 75 people to death, including several Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and referred what was the largest single case of capital punishment convictions to the country's top religious authority.

Those found guilty were among 713 defendants on trial for allegedly killing policemen and vandalising property during protests by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which were violently broken up.

Senior Brotherhood members Mohamed el-Baltagui, Issam al-Aryan and Safwat Hijazi were in the dock, while 31 others were tried in absentia.

Also on trial at the Cairo Criminal Court on Saturday was prominent photojournalist Mahmud Abu Zeid, widely known as Shawkan, who was arrested for taking photos at the protests.

Shawkan received UNESCO's Press Freedom Prize in May. The court postponed a verdict on his and other cases.

Egyptian law requires the grand mufti to be consulted on death sentence cases, although his opinion is not legally binding and those convicted still have the right to appeal.

On 14 August 2013, one of the bloodiest days in Egypt's modern history, a month after the army ousted the democratically elected Morsi from office, police moved to disperse a sprawling protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya square in Cairo.

About 800 people were killed within hours at Rabaa al-Adawiya and the capital's Nahda Square, where another sit-in was being held.

Egypt's government said many demonstrators were armed and 43 police officers were killed.

Hundreds more people were killed in street clashes with police over several months after the August carnage and mass arrests were carried out.

Global rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say at least 40,000 people were arrested within the first year of Morsi's removal on 3 July 2013.

Egypt's courts have sentenced to death or lengthy jail terms hundreds of people after speedy mass trials, including Morsi and several leaders of his Brotherhood movement.

Many have appealed and won retrials, but 26 executions have been carried out.