Former Egyptian President Morsi jailed for 20 years

Former Egyptian President Morsi jailed for 20 years
An Egyptian court Tuesday jailed ex-president Mohamed Morsi to 20 years for the killing of protesters, but acquitted him of charges that would have seen him face the death penalty.
5 min read
21 April, 2015
Morsi still faces the death penalty in at least two of his other trials [AFP]

A court in Cairo sentenced ousted President Mohamed Morsi to 20 years in prison, without parole, on Tuesday for the killing of protesters in December 2012, in a decision broadcast on state television.

Fourteen others were convicted on the same charges, with most also sentenced to 20 years in jail. 

But the court acquitted the defendants on charges of inciting murder over the deaths of a journalist and two protesters during the 5 December 2012 clashes outside the presidential palace in Cairo. 

The verdict once again demonstrates that the Egyptian criminal justice system appears to be completely incapable of delivering fair trials

- Amnesty International

Defence lawyers said they would appeal the convictions.  

The Cairo Criminal Court issued the verdict as Morsi and other defendants in the case stood in a soundproof glass cage inside a makeshift courtroom at Egypt's national police academy.

Tuesday's verdict involves a case in which Morsi and 14 other defendants, seven of whom are on the run, are charged with the killing of three protesters and torturing several more during clashes in front of the presidential palace. 

The protesters were demonstrating against a Morsi decree that put him above judicial review when they clashed with his supporters.   

However defence lawyers say there is no proof that Morsi incited the clashes, and that most of those killed were Brotherhood members. 

Morsi faces at least four more trials along with thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members following the military overthrowing him in 2013.

Morsi, who has been held at a high-security prison near Alexandria, faces the death penalty in at least two of them, including one in which he is accused of spying for foreign powers, and escaping from prison during the 2011 anti-Mubarak uprising.  

Separate verdicts in those two cases are due on 16 May.

A death sentence against Egypt's first freely elected president cannot be ruled out, experts say, especially since judges have already passed harsh verdicts against leaders of his blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt's first freely elected leader came to power following the 2011 ouster of Hosni Mubarak. 

But after just a year in power, Morsi was himself toppled by then-army chief and now President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The new authorities then launched a sweeping crackdown on his supporters in which more than 1,400 people were killed and thousands jailed.

Hundreds have been sentenced to death after speedy mass trials which the United Nations called "unprecedented in recent history".   

The authorities have also targeted secular and liberal activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak, Morsi's predecessor. 

In November, a court dropped murder charges against Mubarak in his own trial over the deaths of hundreds of protesters in 2011.

Rights groups say Sisi's regime is more repressive than under Mubarak. 

'Justice politicised' 

Even if Morsi escapes the death penalty, he could still face life in jail. 

"Justice is highly politicised and verdicts are rarely based on objective elements," Karim Bitar from the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations told AFP.

Morsi's supporters were the target of a government "witch-hunt", he added. 

If a death sentence is passed, it is unlikely to be carried out, said H.A Hellyer of the Washington-based Brookings Centre for Middle East Policy.  

"The execution of Morsi would represent an escalation by the Egyptian authorities that they do not appear willing to engage in," Hellyer added.  

"Internationally, it will be received badly that an elected president overthrown via a military incursion into politics, even if that military is popular, is then dealt a harsh judicial sentence."   

In a country where the army has been in power for decades, Sisi's May 2014 presidential victory crushed hopes raised since the popular anti-Mubarak revloution of a civilian democracy.   

The extent of anti-Brotherhood repression "is unprecedented in the history of the Brotherhood and could push its supporters to extremism" said Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, professor of political science at Cairo University.

Militants, mainly the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State group, have claimed attacks on security forces in retaliation for the crackdown on Morsi supporters. 

The Brotherhood itself denies resorting to violence.

'Sham trial'

Human rights group, Amnesty International called the sentencing a "travesty of justice" stating that the verdict for the ousted president points to a "sham trial".

In a statement published on Tuesday, Amnesty said that the verdict "once again demonstrates that the Egyptian criminal justice system appears to be completely incapable of delivering fair trials for members or supporters of the former president's administration and the Muslim Brotherhood."

Amnesty International documented several irregularities during the trial itself.

During the first hearing on 4 November 2013, the authorities barred several members of Mohamed Morsi’s self-appointed defence team from attending, the group said, adding that the leading defence lawyer was only allowed to meet with Morsi after the trial began.

"This verdict shatters any remaining illusion of independence and impartiality in Egypt’s criminal justice system" Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said.

The organisation called for Morsi to receive a fair re-trial in a civilian court in line with international standards, or to be released. 

Egypt's Anti-Coup Alliance also condemned the 20-year prison sentence given to Morsi.

The coalition released a statement on its official Facebook page, rejecting the verdict and calling it "military orders dressed up as a judicial ruling."

"The judicial system has become nothing more than just a toy in the hands of the oppressive military authorities, to retaliate against opponents and to harass, kill and imprison people" the group stated.

The Anti-Coup Alliance said its main priority in the near future will be to "mobilise a revolution to overthrow the coup and liberate the country" adding that this will help in "bringing an end to the arrests and abuse carried out by military authorities."

Many others also expressed their thoughts on the trial and verdict.

International Union for Muslim Scholars Sectary-General Dr Ali al-Qara Daghi tweeted, "Only in Egypt. Someone 'accused' of showing force is sentenced to 20-years in prison, but someone who 'uses' force and kills thousands of people is the head of state."

Former member of parliament, Azza al-Garf, said, "Twenty years in prison for the leader Mohamed Morsi, your sentence is under our shoes. Our revolution continues, the revolutionaries will not show you mercy."

Human rights activist Haitham Abu Khalil said, "President Morsi has been found guilty and the criminal Mubarak gets off free. Is this a revolution or occupation?"

Osama Morsi, the son of the ousted leader, said the ruling was "nothing more than a politicised decision."

With additional reporting from AFP.