CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian court signalled on Thursday it wanted death sentences for the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and 13 others charged with murder and firearms possession, when it referred the case to the country's religious authorities.
Judicial sources said a judge at a court session held at a Cairo police institute had referred all 14 to the Mufti, the highest Islamic legal official, who must give an opinion on the proposed death sentences before they can be confirmed. The court's final verdicts are expected on Aug. 3, after the Mufti gives his opinion.
Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie has already been referred to the Mufti with a death sentence recommendation once on a separate set of charges.
A court in the town of Minya, south of Cairo, is expected to deliver a final verdict in that case on Saturday. Badie is also standing trial in other cases.
In the cases of all 14, judges have not yet passed guilty verdicts, but have sent their death sentence recommendations to the Mufti for his opinion before giving final rulings.
Confirmation of a death sentence for Badie, the Brotherhood's general guide, would further infuriate members of the group, which has been the target of raids, arrests, and bans.
Along with Badie, more than 1,000 suspected supporters of former President Mohamed Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood have this year been subject to similar death sentence referrals to the Mufti. Their cases have provoked outrage among rights groups and Western governments. Thirty-seven of the sentences have been upheld, more than six hundred others are awaiting decisions and the rest have been given life sentences. So far no death sentence has been carried out.
Among the defendants in the Cairo case are senior Brotherhood members Mohamed El-Beltagi and Essam El-Erian and former members of the Mursi government. Six of the accused are on the run.
The court's referral to the Mufti comes less than two weeks after former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took office as president. Sisi's overthrow of Mursi last July was followed by protests by his supporters and a crackdown by security forces in which hundreds of Islamists were killed and thousands jailed.
The movement emerged after the 2011 revolt as the country's best-organised political force. But it has been driven underground and designated a terrorist organisation since Mursi was overthrown.
Sisi has said the Brotherhood will cease to exist in his presidency.
The Thursday referral to the mufti related to clashes during protests in July. The defendants are accused of killing nine people and incitement to kill that led to 21 other deaths, judicial sources said.
(Reporting by Maggie Fick and Mostafa Hashem; Editing by Andrew Roche)