Egypt court upholds Morsi’s death sentence

Deposed president and other members of the Muslim Brotherhood were convicted in connection to a mass jailbreak in 2011

An Egyptian court upheld a death sentence for deposed President Mohamed Morsi on Tuesday over a mass jailbreak during the country's 2011 uprising and issued sweeping punishments against the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The spiritual leader of the Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, and four other group leaders also had their death sentences confirmed. More than 90 others, including influential cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi, were sentenced to death in absentia.

Morsi and the others were sentenced to death on May 16, but according to Egyptian law, the grand mufti, Egypt's top religious authority, must approve all capital punishment cases. Judge Shaaban el-Shami said Tuesday that the mufti stated the death sentence was permissible for the defendants.

The Brotherhood described the rulings as "null and void" and called for a popular uprising on Friday.

The sentences were part of a crackdown launched against the Brotherhood after an army takeover stripped Morsi of power in 2013 amid mass protests against his rule. Since his overthrow, Egyptian authorities have killed hundreds of Brotherhood supporters and jailed thousands of others.

Morsi, who was backed by the Brotherhood, became Egypt's first freely elected president after the downfall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Wearing his blue prison uniform, the bespectacled and bearded Morsi listened calmly as Shami read out the verdict in the case relating to the 2011 mass jailbreak, in which Morsi faced charges of killing, kidnapping and other offenses.

Also on Tuesday, Shami gave Morsi an additional 25-year sentence in a case relating to conspiring with foreign groups.

Morsi appeared unfazed, smiling and waving to lawyers as other defendants chanted, "Down, down with military rule," after the verdicts, which can be appealed, were read out at the court session in the Police Academy.

The rulings are yet another setback for leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and increase the chances that its younger supporters will take up arms against authorities, breaking what the group says is a long tradition of nonviolence.

Muslim Brotherhood members in a court on the outskirts of Cairo, June 16, 2015.
Asmaa Waguih / Reuters

The court last month convicted Morsi and his fellow defendants of killing and kidnapping policemen, attacking police facilities and breaking out of jail during the 2011 uprising.

Shami said elements of Hamas, Lebanon's Hezbollah, Sinai-based rebel fighters and Brotherhood leaders all participated in storming the jails. He said they committed "acts that lead to infringing on the country's independence and the safety of its lands."

The death sentence request drew criticism from Western governments, including Washington, and human rights groups.

Yahya Hamid, the head of international relations for the Muslim Brotherhood and a former minister in Morsi's Cabinet, condemned the trial. "This verdict is a nail in the coffin of democracy in Egypt," he said at a news conference in Istanbul.

Western diplomats say Egyptian officials say that executing Morsi would risk turning him into a martyr. The Brotherhood has survived decades of repression, maintaining popular support through its charities.

The death sentence "signals the Egyptian state as rejecting de-escalation in the crackdown against the Brotherhood," said H.A. Hellyer of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

In reading his verdict, Shami said that the Brotherhood has a history of "grabbing power with any price" and "legalized the bloodletting of the sons of this country and conspired and collaborated with foreign entities ... to achieve its diabolical aims."

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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