Egypt's Morsi risks death penalty in first trial verdict

By Afp

Published: 08:01 GMT, 21 April 2015 | Updated: 08:01 GMT, 21 April 2015

An Egyptian court could sentence deposed president Mohamed Morsi to death on Tuesday in the first verdict against the Islamist nearly two years after the army ousted him.

The Cairo court will deliver its verdict on charges of inciting the killing of protesters in December 2012, when Morsi was still in office.

A death sentence against the country's first freely elected president would be a blow against his Muslim Brotherhood movement -- target of a brutal government crackdown since then army chief and now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi overthrew him on July 3, 2013.

Egypt's deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi waves from inside the defendant’s cage during his trial at the police academy in Cairo on January 8, 2015

Egypt's deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi waves from inside the defendant’s cage during his trial at the police academy in Cairo on January 8, 2015

The Brotherhood called for protests in support of Morsi.

"The coup commander is exploiting the judiciary as a weapon in the battle against the popular will and the democratic and revolutionary legitimacy represented by President Mohamed Morsi," it said in a statement.

Morsi could also face the death penalty in two other trials, including one in which he is accused of spying for foreign powers.

Verdicts in those two cases are due on May 16.

Experts say a death sentence cannot be ruled out on Tuesday, as judges have already handed down harsh sentences against other Islamist leaders. Earlier this month, another court sentenced Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie to death.

Morsi was toppled after mass street protests against his year-long rule.

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

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

The authorities have also targeted secular and liberal activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising against longtime autocrat 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.

Tuesday's verdict involves charges that Morsi and 14 other defendants, seven of whom are on the run, incited the killing of three protesters and the torture of several others during clashes outside the presidential palace on December 5, 2012.

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

Defence lawyers say there is no proof Morsi incited the clashes.

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

The verdict is open to appeal.

- 'Political trials'-

Political analyst Ashraf El-Sherif of the American University of Cairo said a tough sentence against Morsi would mark the "crowning" of the ongoing crackdown against the Brotherhood.

"The lawsuits against Morsi in particular make no sense, these are political trials," he said.

Sisi has vowed to "eradicate" the Brotherhood, an 85-year-old movement that topped successive polls between Mubarak's fall and Morsi's presidential election victory in May 2012.

The authorities designated it a "terrorist group" in December 2013, making even verbal expressions of support punishable by stiff jail terms.

Jihadists have claimed a string of deadly attacks on the security forces in retaliation for the crackdown on the Brotherhood.

Officials say more than 500 police and soldiers have been killed in attacks since Morsi's overthrow.

In a country where the army has been in power for decades, Sisi's May 2014 presidential election win over little-known challengers crushed hopes raised by Mubarak's ouster of a civilian democracy.

His regime is popular among the many Egyptians tired of more than four years of political turmoil, but human rights groups say it has proved more repressive than Mubarak's.

Buses are seen ablaze following clashes between opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria ...

Buses are seen ablaze following clashes between opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria on December 21, 2012 ©Mahmud Hams (AFP/File)

Opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi clash in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria on December 21, 2012

Opponents and supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi clash in the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria on December 21, 2012 ©Mahmud Hams (AFP/File)

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