Morsi supporters charged with violence chant slogans against the Egyptian military during a trial in
Morsi supporters charged with violence chant slogans against the Egyptian military during a trial in court in Alexandria. June 7, 2014. Photo by AP
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An Egyptian court sentenced ten Islamist supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement to death in absentia on Saturday on charges of inciting violence and blocking a road last July.

Judge Hassan Fareed, presiding over a court in the Nile Delta town of Banha, referred the sentence to the Grand Mufti, the highest Islamic authority in Egypt, a legal requirement usually considered a formality.

The remaining 38 on trial in the case will be sentenced at the next hearing on July 5. Among them are Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, former Brotherhood lawmaker Mohammed el-Beltagy, Salafi preacher Safwat Hegazy and Bassem Auda, the supplies minister under Morsi, who was overthrown by the military last July following massive protests against his yearlong rule.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s most well-organized opposition movement during decades of autocratic rule, was propelled to power by the 2011 uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

The trials are part of a fierce government crackdown in the months following Morsi’s overthrow, during which the group was outlawed and then declared a terrorist movement. Hundreds of Morsi supporters have been killed in clashes with police, at least 16,000 have been detained by the military-backed government and hundreds referred to trial.

Meanwhile, an appeals court on Saturday overturned the sentences given to four police officers over the deaths of 37 detainees, most of them Morsi supporters, Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported.

The prisoners suffocated in an overcrowded police truck where they had been packed for hours when the police threw tear gas canisters into the cramped space.

The court had handed a 10-year prison term to one officer and one-year suspended sentences to three in March.