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Egypt court confirms Morsi death sentence over jailbreak

Cairo court upholds death sentence for Egypt's former president Mohamed Morsi, sentences him to life in prison on separate charges
Protester holds a picture of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in front of the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on 3 June (AFP)

An Egyptian court on Tuesday upheld a death sentence against ousted president Mohamed Morsi for plotting jailbreaks and attacks on police during the country's 2011 uprising.

The ruling comes after the court consulted Egypt's grand mufti, the government interpreter of Islamic law who plays an advisory role.

The initial verdict was issued on 16 May when Morsi and more than 100 other defendants were sentenced to death in the jailbreak case.

After the latest verdict was read, Morsi, dressed in a blue prison uniform, smiled, clenched his fists together and raised them in a sign of defiance.

Judge Shaaban al-Shamy also confirmed the death sentences against the Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual guide Mohamed Badie as well as the Qatar-based cleric Yusuf Qaradawi and Sondos Assem; the only woman to receive the death penalty. Both have been tried in absentia.

“While I am disappointed by today’s verdict to uphold the death sentence issued to me by the Egyptian authorities, I am not surprised by it,” Assem told Middle East Eye via email.

“The Egyptian judicial system has been completely politicised - the many hundreds currently sentenced to death have not been afforded the basic protection of their right to a fair trial and due process before an independent judiciary.

“The situation in Egypt continues to deteriorate and the lives of thousands who supported democracy after the January 25th revolution remain at risk.”

The same court also sentenced Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, to life in prison on charges of spying for the Palestinian Hamas movement, Lebanon's Hezbollah, and Iran.

In a separate trial in April, Morsi had previously been sentenced to 20 years in jail on charges of inciting violence against protesters in 2012 when he was president.

Badie and 15 others were also sentenced to life in prison in the spy case, while three others were given seven years each.

They were convicted of spying on behalf of the international Muslim Brotherhood organisation and Hamas from 2005 to August 2013 "with the aim of perpetrating terror attacks in the country in order to spread chaos and topple the state".

All of Tuesday's verdicts can be appealed, with the case expected to go to the Court of Cesation that has the authority to uphold or reduce the sentence or to order a re-trial. 

"We have seen two mass trials in Minya last year. In those cases the Court of Cessation overturned [the death penalty rulings] and ordered a re-trial," Mohamed Elmessiry, an Egypt researcher at Amnesty International, told Middle East Eye. 

"But this is Egypt and there is no guarantee. The system can be unpredictable." 

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quick to slam the verdict, saying that the life sentence pronounced against Morsi was a test for both Western countries and the international media in their stance for democratic principles. 

"We'll see what the international media will do against what has recently been happening in Egypt after they accused the Turkish president and its government of becoming 'dictatorial and authoritarian' in their broadcasts during transparent Turkish elections," Davutoglu said.

"I wonder if they can raise their voice [against Egypt sentences]," he added. 

Davutoglu’s speech ended before Morsi’s death sentence was reported.

"We will see those who talk about freedoms in Turkey but salute Egypt's coup regime, those who speak of justice but remain silent against the oppression in Syria," he said.

International law specialist, Rodney Dixon QC, and legal advisor to President Morsi's Freedom and Justice Party also urged the international community to act: “There is no reason to have any confidence in the appeal process or to believe that they [the Egyptian judiciary] will act independently and in accordance with the rule of law to overturn these sentences."

“It is very late, but there is still a vital opportunity. The US, the EU and AU need to take every step to isolate Sisi diplomatically and otherwise to ensure these unlawful sentences are not upheld,” he told MEE.

The United States, European Union, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon all expressed concerns over the initial verdict.  

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement Tuesday that the death penalty represented “an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity”.

"These sentences and procedures are in breach of Egypt's obligations under international law," Mogherini said.

Ties between the United States and Egypt plummeted after Morsi's ousting, with Washington freezing its annual $1.3 bn in military aid to the country. But relations have since improved and most of the aid was unblocked late last year.

Egypt has seen a spike in death sentences since then-army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Morsi in July 2013 after protests called for an end to his one-year rule.

Sisi has since overseen a sweeping crackdown on Morsi's supporters. According to Human Rights Watch more than 1,000 people were killed and more than 40,000 are believed to have been imprisoned.

Hundreds have also been sentenced to death after speedy mass trials described by the United Nations as "unprecedented in recent history".

The new authorities designated Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood a "terrorist group" in December 2013, accusing it of being behind violence that erupted after his overthrow - an accusation denied by the movement.

Ayman Nour, a leading and influential member of the liberal Egyptian opposition commented on Tuesday’s ruling: "We witnessed an extremely politicised trial. The judge addressed politics more than the law."

"When he finally spoke in legal terms, the judge made very basic mistakes differentiating between one charge and the other. Even law students would not have made such mistakes," Nour told Al Jazeera.

Sisi has defended rulings against his opponents, saying they are part of the judicial process and can be appealed.