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Morsi sentenced to 20 years, avoids death penalty

An Egyptian court sentences former President Mohamed Morsi to 20 years in a verdict that Amnesty calls 'a travesty of justice'
Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in a courthouse this week (AFP)

An Egyptian court on Tuesday sentenced ousted President Mohamed Morsi to 20 years in jail on violence-related charges, in what has been seen by experts as a politically motivated trial.

Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, was found guilty of inciting violence against demonstrators outside Cairo's Ittihadiya presidential palace in 2012.

But the court acquitted Morsi of murder charges that could have seen him sentenced to death over the killings of a journalist and two protesters during clashes outside a presidential palace in 2012.

Ahead of the verdict, several observers anticipated Morsi would be handed down the death penalty, especially after an Egyptian court sentenced 22 members of the Muslim Brotherhood - accused of carrying out an attack on a police station in the Kerdasa district near Cairo in 2013 -  on Monday, while another court sentenced Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie to death earlier this month. 

Defence lawyers said Tuesday's verdict will be appealed.

In a statement commenting on the verdict, Amnesty International said: "The sentencing of Mohamed Morsi to 20 years in prison today is a travesty of justice and demonstrates, once again, 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."

"The verdict shatters any remaining illusion of independence and impartiality in Egypt's criminal justice system," Hassiba Hadh Sahraoui, the Deputy Director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Programme, also said in a statement after the verdict.

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

Politically motivated trial

Tuesday's verdict was the first against Morsi since his ouster and imprisonment by the army in mid-2013. Since then, he has been slapped with numerous criminal charges, which he and his supporters insist are politically motivated.

“We are dealing with an administration that has no real legitimacy and a judicial system completely under the influence of a military coup leadership,” said international law expert Toby Cadman.

“Such events show a complete disregard for justice, a complete disregard for the rights of those appearing before the court, and merely underlines the argument that the judicial process is being used as an extension of executive authority and is a political tool aimed to silence dissent,” he added.

In agreement with Cadman, ITN solicitors, a legal team representing the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, also condemned the verdict in a statement on Tuesday.
 
"The continued use of politicized trials to impose mass death sentences is of critical concern, in particular since President Morsi is to stand trial again in May, when he faces a real risk of receiving the death penalty."
 
"Following leaked audio recordings of conversations between senior members of the military regime, subsequently verified and authenticated by senior acoustic experts, it became clear that the Egyptian legal process was subject to manipulation by the military regime," added the statement. 
 
A series of reports have revealed that leaked audio recordings of the conversations show discussions on an assortment of issues including Morsi's trial. 

ITN solicitors have confirmed that Morsi's prison sentence will be raised with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at a hearing scheduled to take place in Gambia in early May.

The legal team will also ask the African Commission to consider Egypt’s imposition of over 500 mass death penalties and the execution of Mahmoud Ramadan in March 2015 the first time that Egypt has enacted any of the death sentences - for allegedly killing two teenagers by pushing them off a ledge .

The verdict has drawn deep criticism among opponents of the current Egyptian government especially after the its judiciary allowed former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to walk free earlier this year.

In November 2014, an Egyptian court dropped Mubarak's conviction and life sentence over ordering the killing of hundreds of demonstrators during the protests in 2011 that ended his almost three-decade rule.

The verdict of Mubarak's hearing that was concerned with the killing of at least 239 of the 900 protests killed, angered many families who saw the trial as a farce.

“There is no justice for the poor,” Ramadan Ahmed told the Independent at the time.

His son Mohammed was shot dead in Alexandria during the uprising. “This is Mubarak's law!”

Ittihadiya palace clashes

Although a total of 11 people – including eight Morsi supporters – were killed in the violence, the trial only addresses the death of one reporter, Hosseini Abu Deif, and two anti-Morsi demonstrators.

On 5 December 2012 clashes broke out between members of the Muslim Brotherhood and protesters who rejected a constitutional amendment issued by Morsi, allegedly granting him extra-judicial powers.

The clashes which took place outside of the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo’s eastern Heliopolis suburb, resulted in the injury and detentions of dozens of protesters, mostly Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters.

The trial had initially charged 14 Brotherhood leaders alongside Morsi with the killing of protesters, but Tuesday’s court hearing sentenced only two other defendants to 10 years on the same charges.

Other charges 

The former President faces several upcoming trials on charges of colluding with foreign militants in a plot to free prisoners in mass during the 2011 uprisings, and espionage and conspiring to commit terror acts in Egypt in collaboration with Palestinian movement Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

He also faces charges related to endangering national security by allegedly leaking state secrets and sensitive documents to Qatar through the Aljazeera news network. 

Separate verdicts in those cases are due on 16 May.

Morsi was ousted by a military coup in July of 2013 – after only one year in office – following protests against his presidency.

Since Morsi's ouster, Egyptian authorities have launched a relentless crackdown on dissent that has largely targeted Morsi's Islamist supporters, leaving hundreds dead and thousands behind bars.