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Egypt Must Overturn Death Sentences Given to Morsi Supporters

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The shocking news that 528 supporters of former Egyptian President Morsi have been sentenced to death represents a worrying reversal of recent progress towards a democratic future for the people of Egypt.

The verdict of the mass trial of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters for their part in demonstrations last summer, which left hundreds injured, a policemen dead and serious damage to property, has been condemned by the United Nations Human Rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, as a clear breach of international law.

Together with the trial of Al Jazeera journalists, the interim Egyptian government's response to these death sentences has been judged by many as proof of a mindset that offers little hope for the birth of a functioning democracy in Egypt, the largest Arab state in the Middle East.

When President Mubarak was deposed, hopes were high that his corrupt dictatorship would be replaced by an elected government which would command the respect of Egypt's people as a whole.

But president Mohammed Morsi, the victor of the presidential election, was not able to build the level of consensus needed to stabilise the country.

His overthrow last summer following massive street demonstrations ushered in a new period of uncertainty.

The military leadership signalled that it intended to help Egypt move towards democratic government as soon as possible, and moves to establish a new democratic Constitution took place.

But the summary justice meted out to defendants facing the death penalty in this week's trial raises very real concerns about whether the interim Egyptian government is indeed committed to real reform.

This will understandably raise safety and security concerns as the people of Egypt prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for the coming months.

Only democratic reforms and real political progress can deliver the hard- fought transition in Egypt that its people crave. But this latest verdict offers little hope of that happening.

There is now a small window when an appeal can be lodged against the sentences, so the international community, including the UK government, must condemn this decision and take all possible steps to support the appeal of this verdict.

Whatever the outcome of the appeal, if lodged, today will be remembered as a dark day for justice in Egypt.

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