CAIRO (CNN) — Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was sentenced Saturday by a Cairo court to death — the latest judicial setback for the ousted leader. He was convicted in a 2011 prison break.
Morsi’s name, along with those of more than 100 other defendants, will be passed to the Grand Mufti, the highest legal authority in Egypt, who will have the final say on their sentence. The verdict will be confirmed June 2.
This was the harshest sentence that Morsi could have expected to receive in the case.
The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, and a former parliament speaker, Mohamed Saad El-Katatny, also were referred to the Grand Mufti in the jailbreak case.
Cairo’s military-installed government has banned the Muslim Brotherhood, branding it a terrorist group — an allegation it denies.
Morsi and his co-defendants were accused of collaborating with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah to break into several prisons across Egypt in January 2011 and of facilitating the escape of Morsi and 20,000 others.
The jailbreak came amid the chaos of the January 2011 popular uprising that toppled longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak and led to Morsi’s election the following year.
Rights group: Trials a “charade”
Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Abdel Moniem Abdel Maqsoud told CNN that the defense would have to consult with Morsi before deciding whether to lodge an appeal on his behalf.
Morsi has said throughout the process “that he doesn’t recognize these trials,” the lawyer said.
Maqsoud characterized Saturday’s ruling as “a decision, not a verdict.”
“Consequently we will wait until June 2,” he said. “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.”
He said he believed the Court of Cassation would overturn all the verdicts handed down.
Rights group Amnesty International condemned the trials of Morsi and others as a “charade” which demonstrated the “deplorable state” of Egypt’s criminal justice system.
Condemning Morsi to death “shows a complete disregard for human rights. His trials were undermined even before he set foot in the courtroom,” said Said Boumedouha, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program.
He urged Egypt to ensue the independence and impartiality of the justice system, saying most of those sentenced to death by its courts since July 2013 have been Morsi supporters.
“The death penalty has become the favorite tool for the Egyptian authorities to purge the political opposition,” he said.
Hamas criticized the death sentences handed down for some of its members in connection with the jailbreak — pointing out that two of the named defendants were already dead.
“Hossam El-Sanie was martyred in 2008. Martyr leader Raed El-Attar was martyred the 2014 war. Today, the Egyptian judiciary sentenced them to death. Fair judiciary indeed,” Ismail Haniyyeh, the deputy head of the Hamas politburo, tweeted.
He noted that another Palestinian sentenced to death, Hassan Salama, has been in Israeli prisons since 1996.
In a separate case involving espionage charges, another 16 defendants — but not Morsi — were also sentenced to death. The verdict will be confirmed June 2.
Among those sentenced to death are Mohamed El-Shater, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood; Mohamed El-Beltagy, a former Muslim Brotherhood member of parliament; Ahmed Abdel Aty, a former presidential aide; and Emad Shahin, a political science professor now in the United States.
Those defendants present chanted “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is the greatest,” as they were sentenced. They remained in the cage where prisoners are held in the courtroom, waving to journalists and lawyers as they chanted.
Morsi can expect to learn his verdict in the espionage case on June 2, but it won’t be the death penalty.
Violence against protesters
Morsi, who became Egypt’s first democratically elected President in June 2012, was deposed by a popularly backed military coup in July 2013.
He was already sentenced to 20 years in prison in April this year on charges involving violence against protesters outside the presidential palace in December 2012. But he was acquitted of murder in the deaths of protesters.
After that verdict, his Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, called the trial a “travesty of justice.”
The ousted president is still facing an ongoing trial on charges of espionage with Qatar. A fifth trial will start this month on charges of insulting the judiciary.
CNN’s Sarah Sirgany and Ian Lee reported from Cairo and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London.