CAIRO (AP) — The judge in one of the largest trials of supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi declared Saturday he will issue verdicts for the more than 500 defendants after only two sessions, said lawyers who decried the move as violating the norms of a fair trial.
The 545 defendants are standing trial in relation to violence following the August dispersal by security forces of two pro-Morsi protests in Cairo, in which hundreds were killed. In an apparent backlash, police stations, churches and government buildings were stormed by suspected Morsi supporters across Egypt.
The defendants are accused of attacking a police station in Matay in the southern province of Minya, stealing government weapons, killing one police officer and attempting to kill two others, Egypt's state news agency said. More than 400 defendants are still at large and are being tried in absentia, defense lawyer Khaled el-Koumi said.
El-Koumi said the trial opened Saturday with more than 100 defendants crammed in the courtroom cage, which was set up specially to accommodate the large number. Security was tight outside the courthouse, and journalists were not allowed inside.
He said lawyers asked the presiding judge, Said Youssef, to postpone the case to give them time to review the hundreds of documents in the case, but the request was declined. Then another lawyer began to make a request based on constitutional demands, when the judge interrupted, refusing to recognize it.
When the lawyers protested, el-Koumi said, Youssef angrily said the lawyers will not dictate what he should do, and asked the court security to close in on the lawyers. "The lawyers said (the judge) can't terrorize the defense in that manner," el-Koumi said, and asked that the judge recuse himself from the case. "He clearly was treating us as terrorists."
A security official in the courtroom said the defendants and the lawyers were chanting against the judge: "God is our only refuge!" interrupting the session. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
A court official, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the judge tried a number of times to calm the chants but failed. Thousands of Morsi supporters have been arrested since the military ousted him following mass protests against him. It is one of the largest security sweeps in Egypt's modern history.
During many trials of Morsi supporters, their lawyers and the defendants have often interrupted the judges, prolonging the procedures in what authorities said were an attempt to delay prosecution. Authorities have declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, and the country's interim president had asked the judiciary to increase the number of courts, and judges to expedite trials.
The judge refused the lawyers' request to recuse himself and insisted he will rule in the case, declaring the session adjourned for Monday when he will issue the verdict, the lawyer said. Egypt's state media confirmed that the verdict was expected Monday.
For a trial that involves charges of murder, this is a remarkably fast timetable. "No review of evidence, no witnesses, no time for the defense to make their case," el-Koumi said. "This is a violation of the right of defense in in unprecedented fashion."
Another case opens in Minya on Tuesday where 683 defendants are facing similar charges. They include the Brotherhood's leader Mohammed Badie, who faces multiple other trials, and a senior member of the Brotherhood in Minya.
The large number of trials and defendants strained Egypt's judicial system. Rights lawyer Negad Borai said the decision by the judge Saturday was a manifestation of "the collapse, even in the most technical ways, of executing justice." He said the swift rulings and rejection of lawyers' requests was unprecedented and violates the law.
"Whatever ruling will be appealed on grounds it violates the right of the defendants," he said. It was not immediately possible to reach the judge for comment.
Associated Press Writer Mamdouh Thabet contributed to this report from Assiut, Egypt