An Egyptian court has upheld a death sentence against the ousted president Mohamed Morsi in a trial stemming from his escape from prison during the 2011 uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak from power.
Tuesday’s ruling reaffirms an initial decision in the case in May, in which Morsi and more than 100 others were sentenced to death. In keeping with Egyptian law, the ruling was referred to the grand Mufti, a top religious authority, in advance of Tuesday’s session. The verdict can still be challenged in Egypt’s highest appeals court.
The outcome underlines the reversal of Egypt’s political tide since the 2011 revolution that ended Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Morsi was detained without charge during the initial days of the uprising and fled Egypt’s Wadi Natroun prison after it was stormed and the guards overpowered. Morsi announced the incident in a call to al-Jazeera and faced no legal consequences for leaving the prison either before or during his tenure as president.
If carried out, the death sentences against Morsi and other senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood would enrage their supporters who regard the charges and trial as a farce. However, no execution is likely to take place before the appeals court rules on the case.
Before issuing the ruling, the judge Shaban El-Shamy read a lengthy series of remarks detailing what he described as a litany of ills committed by the Muslim Brotherhood, including “spreading chaos and seeking to bring down the Egyptian state”. Prosecutors alleged that Islamist leaders conspired with militants to escape prison.
The ruling was issued in a makeshift courtroom in the grounds of a police academy on the outskirts of Cairo. In television footage, Morsi and other defendants appeared inside a metal and glass cage in the courtroom, dressed in colour-coded prison uniforms: white for those awaiting judgment, blue for those sentenced to prison, red for those sentenced to death.
In a separate ruling, El-Shamy sentenced Morsi to life in prison, understood in Egypt’s legal system to mean 25 years, for espionage and colluding with foreign armed groups to commit attacks.
The Egyptian military removed Morsi from power in July 2013 following days of mass protest. The military-backed government that followed embarked on a crackdown on Morsi’s supporters and other political opponents. Tens of thousands have been detained and more than 1,000 killed in the clampdown. The Muslim Brotherhood has been declared a terrorist organisation and most of the group’s top leaders arrested.
Morsi was tried separately on charges of inciting the killing and torture of opposition protesters outside the presidential palace in Cairo during his time in power in 2012. He also faces separate charges of fraud and insulting the judiciary. The Guardian