An Egyptian court on Wednesday overturned death sentences handed down against 149 people accused of killing policemen, a judicial source said. The Court of Cassation accepted an appeal filed by the defendants, who were sentenced to death in February on charges of killing policemen in a mob attack on their station in Kerdasa city near Cairo, a source told Anadolu Agency.
The court also ordered a retrial and overturned a 10-year jail term handed down against another defendant in the case, the source added. Prosecutors accuse the defendants of storming the Kerdasa police station and killing several policemen in mid-2013 following the ouster of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi in a military coup, led by the incumbent president, Abdel Fattah El-Sissi.
The court had also sentenced 37 people to death in absentia, but they would have to hand themselves in for a retrial. The grounds for the appeals court ruling were not immediately available, but the court has overturned hundreds of death sentences over the past year, to the relief of rights advocates and frustration of some in the government who have urged fast track executions. Seven people have been executed for political violence since Morsi's ouster, including six who were convicted of belonging to a militant group.
Since Morsi's overthrow, Egyptian authorities have launched a harsh crackdown on his supporters, killing hundreds and detaining thousands. The Egyptian government accuses Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood group of carrying out attacks against security forces and declared it a "terrorist organization" in late 2013. The Muslim Brotherhood denies the government accusations, insisting that it follows peaceful forms of activism.