Egyptian court upholds death sentences for 75 people over 2013 demonstration

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie stands behind bars while on trial in February 2015.

Cairo (CNN)An Egyptian court on Saturday issued its final verdict upholding death sentences against 75 Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters -- including journalists -- for their participation in protests following the 2013 ouster of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsy.

The mass trial has been widely condemned by human rights organizations, with Amnesty International calling it a "grotesque parody of justice."
The 739 defendants, who included members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were arrested and tried for participating in a monthlong sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda squares in Cairo to protest the removal of Morsy.
The protest culminated in mass violence, when Egyptian security forces -- under the command of now-President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi -- attempted to clear thousands of demonstrators by using automatic weapons, armored personnel carriers and military bulldozers. Hundreds of people were killed.
    Among those sentenced to death Saturday at the Cairo Criminal Court were prominent Muslim Brotherhood members Essam El-Erian, Mohamed Beltagy, Abdel-Rahman al-Bar and Osama Yassin. Of the 75 people, 44 are in jail and 31 are on the run.
    Although the verdict is considered final, the defendants can still appeal.
    Another 56 defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment, including Mohamed Badie, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.
    About 200 defendants were sentenced to five years behind bars, among them photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, also known as Shawkan. As the judge finished reading their verdict, they cheered, as they have already served their time in detention and expect to be released soon.
    "Those who were sentenced to five years will be released, but according to the sentence, they will remain for another five years under surveillance," Mohamed Wahid, one of the defendant's lawyers, told CNN.
    Shawkan, 31, was arrested on August 14, 2013, while taking pictures of security forces dispersing the Rabaa sit-in. He was awarded the Press Freedom Prize by the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO in April.
    The government's actions in dispersing the Rabaa Adawiya square protest were widely condemned by international rights organizations. At least 817 people were killed in the violence, a 2014 report by Human Rights Watch found.

    Analysis: Dream of freedom 'dead and buried'

    The verdict is confirmation, if any were needed, that the dream of freedom in Egypt, which sent millions into the streets in January 2011, is dead and buried, said Ben Wedeman, CNN's senior international correspondent who was based in Cairo for the network for 11 years. The trial, like most in Egypt, was a farce.
    The hope and optimism of the Arab Spring evaporated long ago, he said. And many now look back wistfully on the paternalistic, corrupt, sometimes-brutal presidency of former President Hosni Mubarak as "the good old days."