Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cairo: An Egyptian court Saturday sentenced deposed Islamist president Mohammad Mursi to death for a 2011 prison escape, becoming the first head of state in the country’s modern history to face the gallows.

The Cairo Criminal Court said it would refer the preliminary death sentences against Mursi and 105 others to the country’s chief Islamic authority, the Grand Mufti, to approve or reject them. This reference is mandatory under Egyptian law in death penalty cases.

The convicts include Mohammad Badie, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood to which Mursi belongs, and Egyptian-born Qatari cleric Yousuf Al Qaradawi.

Chief Judge Sha’aban Al Shami said in a court session, broadcast live on state television, that the final verdict will be declared on June 2.

Mursi and co-defendants, kept in a glass-cased cage at a makeshift courtroom in the Police Academy near Cairo, reacted definitely to the sentencing.

They waved their hands in a sign of high more ale and determination. Some of them made a trademark four-finger signal commemorating a pro-Mursi mass protest that was violently dispersed by security forces in August 2013, i.e. more than a month after Mursi’s overthrow by the army.

The case stems from a mass prison escape during the 2011 uprising that forced out long-time president Husni Mubarak. At the time, Mursi and several of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders were released from the Wadi Al Nutrun Prison west of Cairo in the chaos that followed the collapse of Mubarak’s police.

The convicted defendants, many of them were tried in absentia, are charged with orchestrating the jailbreak in collusion with the Islamist Palestinian Hamas group and Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

The court also condemned 16 Islamists to death including Khayrat Al Shater, the Brotherhood’s deputy head, for alleged collusion with Hamas and Hezbollah.

The sentences, the latest in a string of heavy-handed sentences against leaders and backers of the Brotherhood, drew instant condemnation from Islamists.

A Brotherhood-led alliance dismissed the verdict as a “farce.”

“We greet the steadfastness of President Mohammad Mursi and all heroes behind the bars, who today (Saturday) showed anew their steadfastness, determination and trust in God’s victory,” the National Coalition for Legitimacy Support said in an online.

The alliance called on its backers to stage mass protests until July 3, marking the second anniversary of Mursi’s removal.

“The revolution continues,” Mursi’s son, Usama, said in a brief tweet.

Saturday’s sentences generated no street protests from backers of Mursi, who is serving 20 years in prison after being convicted of arresting and torturing opponents when he was in power.

Observers are not surprised about no-showing of Mursi’s loyalists either at the courtroom or out on the streets.

“The security crackdown, which started months ago, has obviously depleted the Brotherhood ranks and street base,” said Salah al-Hadi, a political expert. “The group [the Brotherhood] is officially lblackisted as a terrorist organization. Its leaders are either locked in jail or have fled abroad. Therefore, don’t expect significant street reactions to this ruling or the next ones.”

Mursi is being tried in two separate cases on charges of leaking sensitive security documents to Qatar, a formidable ally of the Brotherhood, and insulting the judiciaries.

Shortly after the sentences were announced, unknown gunmen killed three judges in the town of Al Arish in Egypt’s troubled Sinai.

The judges were travelling in a car when the assailants attacked them in a drive-in shooting, according to security sources.

The attackers are believed to be Islamist militants.

The Brotherhood, the world’s most influential Islamist group, has been the target of an inexorable clampdown by Egyptian authorities, which accuse it for a wave of deadly violence in the country since Mursi’s ouster.

The 87-year-old group has denied the accusation, insisting that its activism is peaceful.

Mursi’s loyalists and rights groups have repeatedly condemned Islamists trials as politically motivated.

Amnesty International slammed Saturday’s sentences, saying they are the result of “grossly unfair trials.”

“Egypt’s authorities should disregard all the evidence that was obtained from Mohammad Mursi or any other detainee during the period in which they were subjected to enforced disappearance, and must either release him immediately or retry him in a civilian court with full fair-trial guarantees,” the London-based watchdog said in a statement.

“The death penalty has become the favourite tool for the Egyptian authorities to purge the political opposition.”

By Ramadan Al Sherbini Correspondent

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