Egypt’s former president Mohamed Morsi has been sentenced to 20 years in prison over the killing of demonstrators outside his palace in 2012, the first verdict to be issued against the country’s first freely elected leader.
Morsi, who was elected president the year after Egypt’s 2011 revolution, was removed by the military in 2013 after an acrimonious year in office. Tuesday’s verdict stemmed from deaths during violent clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and protesters who opposed Morsi in December 2012.
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The verdict and sentence were issued during a brief hearing in a crowded courtroom in a police academy on the outskirts of Cairo. The defendants included several senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the same verdict, Morsi and 14 co-defendants were acquitted of a murder charge for which they could have faced the death penalty. The former president was convicted of inciting his supporters to use violence and detain and torture opposition demonstrators.
His supporters were outraged. “His trial has been a travesty of justice, which has been scripted and controlled by the government and entirely unsupported by evidence,” Amr Darrag, a senior figure from the Muslim Brotherhood and a former minister under Morsi, said in a statement in Istanbul reported by Reuters. “They want to pass a life sentence for democracy in Egypt.”
Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and north Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said: “This verdict shatters any remaining illusion of independence and impartiality in Egypt’s criminal justice system … Convicting Mohamed Morsi despite fundamental flaws in the legal process and what seems to be at best flimsy evidence produced in court under a gag order, utterly undermines this verdict.”
The prisoners appeared inside a metal and glass cage in the courtroom, dressed in white and blue jumpsuits. Throughout the short proceedings, they made the four-finger salute used by Islamists to commemorate the 2013 killings of hundreds of Morsi’s supporters in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, Cairo.
Those deaths took place during a clampdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood in the weeks after the military takeover. Thousands of Islamists and other opponents of the new government have been jailed in the nearly two years since Morsi was forced from power.
As the verdicts were read, the defendants shouted but their words could not be heard because of the thick panes of glass installed after a defiant Morsi declared himself the rightful president during earlier sessions.
An appeal against Tuesday’s verdict is expected. British legal advisers to Morsi’s Freedom and Justice party claimed the military regime in Cairo had manipulatedthe trial and that his 20-year prison sentence would be raised with the African commission on human and peoples’ rights.
Tayab Ali of ITN Solicitors in London, who leads the international legal team, said: “President Morsi’s trial falls far below the standards expected of a fair trial. These political show trials have become the hallmark of General Sisi’s regime.
“The judiciary in Egypt are seriously failing their people by endorsing the illegal acts of the military regime. The court presiding over Morsi’s trial failed to consider strong evidence prepared by my legal team that President Morsi’s detention was illegal and that evidence was being fabricated.
“We intend to bring the massive failure of Egypt’s legal system to the attention of the African commission. It is imperative that the international community takes decisive action to bring an end to the burgeoning human rights crisis in Egypt.”
Morsi is also on trial separately for escaping from prison during the 2011 popular uprising, espionage and conspiring to commit terrorism. Verdicts in two of the cases are expected in May.
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Morsi is being held at a high-security prison near Alexandria. His incarceration there followed four months of detention at an undisclosed location.
In past sessions, Morsi and most of the defendants turned their backs on the court when the judge, Ahmed Youssef, played video recordings of the clashes outside the palace in 2012.
They took place during protests against decrees granting Morsi expanded powers and an Islamist-backed draft constitution. On 5 December 2012 hundreds of Brotherhood supporters broke up a protest camp outside the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo. In the violence that followed, at least 10 people died, most of them Brotherhood supporters.