Mohammed Morsi Sentenced To Death

by Melanie Schmitz

Deposed Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi has been sitting in prison for the 2013 arrests and subsequent torture of protesters demonstrating outside his palace, but early on Saturday, a Cairo court sentenced him to death for a different charge. Morsi, along with 104 others, had been convicted of plotting a mass prison break in 2011 and of "colluding with foreign militants" in an effort to free detained Islamists, incite violence across the country, and oust then-leader Hosni Mubarak, according to a report by the BBC this week. On Saturday, court reporters said an angry Morsi raised both fists in the air as his sentence was read.

"These latest charges are another deeply disturbing attempt to permanently erase democracy and the democratic process in Egypt," said former Morsi minister Amr Darrag, in a statement. Darrag reportedly called the sentencing one of the "darkest days" in the country's long history.

One of Morsi's loyalists, senior Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Soudan, told Al Jazeera that the charges against Morsi and his co-defendants were nothing more than a power-move by the current military rulers.

"They're insisting on issuing these verdicts against anyone who participated in the January 25 Revolution," said Soudan. "All of the verdicts fail to meet international standards of law ... they are farcical and will be dismissed as a failing of the coup."

Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Egypt has been besieged by chaos since the leader's 2013 toppling during a military coup, which had been prompted by scores of street protesters fighting back against Morsi's institution of martial law and Shariah rule. Although President Obama had originally hailed him as a great leader who had assisted in bringing the Gaza crisis to an end, it was clear by the time of his ousting that the people had been starkly divided by his rule.

The death sentence read on Saturday isn't the end of the road. As in U.S. court proceedings, defenders will have a chance to take the ruling to a higher court — in this case, the Court of Cassation — for an appeal. But with Morsi's defiance of current military rule, even that could pose a problem.

Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Abdel Moniem Abdel Maqsoud told CNN on Saturday that Morsi's rejection or approval of what he has long considered to be illegitimate trial proceedings will determine whether lawyers go ahead and lodge an appeal on his behalf, following the a confirmation of his conviction by Egypt's topmost legal authority, the Grand Mufti, on June 2.

"If there is a conviction, we will continue the legal path that we started the past months, which is to point the legal faults of these verdicts," said Maqsoud.

Amnesty International has decried the court sentence as "complete disregard for human rights", calling the entire proceeding a "charade" standing in for a raggedly toppled system of governance.

"The death penalty has become the favorite tool for the Egyptian authorities to purge the political opposition," said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programs in a statement on Saturday. "Egypt must ensure the independence and impartiality of the justice system and bring to justice all those responsible for gross human rights violations."

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