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Egyptian court seeks death penalty for ex-president Mursi

An Egyptian court on Saturday sought the death penalty for former president Mohamed Mursi and 106 other supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in connection with a mass jail break in 2011.

Mursi and his fellow defendants, including the Brotherhood's top leader, Mohamed Badie, were convicted for killing and kidnapping policemen, attacking police facilities and breaking out of jail during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

The request drew condemnations from the Brotherhood, Amnesty International and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

The court, expected to make a final ruling on June 2, also sought capital punishment in a separate case for Brotherhood leader Khairat el-Shater and 15 others for conspiring with foreign militant groups against Egypt.

The rulings, like all capital sentences, will be referred to Egypt's top religious authority, Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, for an opinion before any executions can take place. His opinion is not legally binding.

Mursi can appeal the verdict, although he has said the court is not legitimate, describing all legal proceedings against him as part of what he calls a coup staged by former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2013.

Many other defendants are on the run.

The Brotherhood, an Islamist movement, propelled Mursi to election victory in 2012 following Mubarak's ouster but was driven underground after the army ousted the Islamist leader a year later following mass protests against his rule.

Mursi stood defiant in a court cage on Saturday wearing a blue prison outfit. He was smiling and pumping his fists in the air even as judge Shaaban al-Shami read out the sentences.

Some other defendants, who were held in a courtroom cage separate from Mursi, flashed a four-finger salute symbolizing resistance to the state's crackdown on Islamists. From behind soundproof glass, they shouted: "Down with military rule!"

Wearing white, red and blue prison jumpsuits - identifying them respectively as awaiting sentencing, condemned to death, and sentenced to a lesser penalty - they seemed to form a choir at one point, with one prisoner leading the rest in protest chants.

Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, the influential Qatar-based Muslim cleric, was among those sentenced to death in the prison-break case.

Muslim Brotherhood official Amr Darrag condemned the court's decision and called on the international community to take action.

"This is a political verdict and represents a murder crime that is about to be committed, and it should be stopped by the international community," Darrag, co-founder of the dissolved Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Brotherhood, told Reuters in Istanbul.

The party said in an online statement the ruling "opened all options to rid the country of this gang which seized power by force". It did not elaborate.

Amnesty International called the court decision "a charade based on null and void procedures" and demanded Mursi's release or retrial in a civilian court.

Erdogan criticized Egypt over the decision and accused its western allies of hypocrisy, the state-run Anatolian news agency reported. "While the West is abolishing the death penalty, they are just watching the continuation of death sentences in Egypt. They don't do anything about it," it quoted him as saying.

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated after Turkey emerged as one of the fiercest international critics of Mursi's removal, calling it an "unacceptable coup" by the army. The Brotherhood has close ties with Erdogan's AK Party.

Political Suicide

Human rights groups have accused Egyptian authorities of widespread abuses in a crackdown on Brotherhood supporters as well as secular activists, allegations they deny.

Western diplomats say Egyptian officials have acknowledged it could be political suicide to execute Mursi and risk turning him into a martyr as has happened with Brotherhood leaders in previous crackdowns.

The Brotherhood, the oldest Islamist group in the Middle East, has survived decades of repression and maintained popular support through its charities.

In what they call "the biggest case of conspiracy in the history of Egypt", prosecutors say the Brotherhood planned to send "elements" to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for military training by Lebanon's Hezbollah group and Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Upon their return, they would join forces with militant groups in the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian territory that borders Israel to the east, prosecutors alleged.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the ruling against Mursi and dozens of Palestinians, calling it "a crime against the Palestinian people". Hamas is an offshoot of the international Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful organization with no links to violence.

Islamic militant groups have stepped up bombing and shooting attacks on security forces since Mursi's fall, killing hundreds.

On Saturday, four people, including three judges, were killed in the North Sinai city of al-Arish when militants opened fire on their vehicle, security sources said.

The interior ministry said a policeman was also killed in the outskirts of Cairo by gunmen on motorcycles.

Security forces have killed about 1,000 Brotherhood supporters on the streets and jailed thousands of others, according to human rights groups.

[Source: By Stephen Kalin, Reuters, Cairo, 16May15]

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Crisis in Egypt
small logoThis document has been published on 18May15 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.