[JURIST] An Egyptian appeals court on Wednesday overturned death sentences for 149 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood accused of executing an attack on a police station near Cairo in 2013. Last year an Egyptian court sentenced the defendants to death in a series of mass trials that were used to denounce the ex-president Mohamed Morsi and his supporters, many of whom align with the pro-Islamist group known as the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi was overthrown in 2013 and shortly thereafter the Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organization and membership was determined illegal in Egypt. Approximately 500 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to death [IBT report] in early 2014. In total, it is estimated that more than 1,000 people have been killed and 40,000 have been jailed [BBC report] as a result of the crackdown on Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt. Wednesday's ruling will result in a retrial [AFP report] for the defendants. Last month Egyptian authorities spent the week clamping down on dissidents [JURIST report] in an effort to avoid further political unrest as the fifth anniversary of the Arab Spring approaches. At the instruction of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi [BBC profile], Egyptian security forces searched over 5,000 homes, seized activists in public, closed an art gallery, raided a publishing house and arrested a medical doctor in a nighttime raid, all as "precautionary measures."
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood [JURIST news archive] have faced a series of legal challenges since Morsi's ouster in 2013 and the Egyptian judiciary has received international criticism for its use of mass trials and deviations from due process. In November, an Alexandria court of appeals ordered a retrial for 77 Muslim Brotherhood supporters [JURIST report]. The defendants were charged with murder, possession of weapons, rioting and a number of other criminal charges stemming from a July 2013 protest. They were sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. In August, an Egyptian criminal court sentenced Mohamed Badie and 88 other Muslim Brotherhood members to life imprisonment [JURIST report] for their role in a 2013 attack on a police station. Most defendants were tried and sentenced in absentia for the killing of five people at a police station in the northeastern city of Port Said in August 2013.