An Egyptian court sentenced ousted President Mohammed Morsi and over 100 others to death on Saturday over a mass prison break during the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and later brought Morsi’s Islamist movement to power.
In what appears to be the first violent response to the sentence, suspected Islamic militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula gunned down three judges and their driver, who were traveling in a car in the northern Sinai city of al-Arish, according to security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
As is customary in capital punishment cases, Judge Shaaban el-Shami referred his death sentence on Morsi and the others to the nation’s top Muslim theologian, or mufti, for his non-binding opinion. El-Shami set June 2 for the next hearing. Regardless of the mufti’s ruling, the sentences can be appealed.
Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader, was ousted by the military in July 2013 following days of mass street protests by Egyptians demanding that he be removed because of his divisive policies. Morsi’s successor, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, was the military chief at the time and led the ouster. El-Sissi ran for president last year and won in a landslide.
Also sentenced to death with Morsi in the prison break case were 105 defendants, most tried and convicted in absentia. They include some 70 Palestinians. Those tried in absentia in Egypt receive automatic retrials once they are detained.
Supporters of Morsi and his now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood chanted “down, down with military rule” as el-Shami announced the verdict in the courtroom, a converted lecture hall in the national police academy in an eastern Cairo suburb.
Prosecutors alleged that armed members of the Palestinian Hamas group entered Egypt during the 18-day uprising through illegal tunnels running under the Gaza border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Taking advantage of the turmoil, the militants fought their way into several prisons, releasing Morsi, more than 30 other Brotherhood leaders and some 20,000 inmates, prosecutors say. Several prison guards were killed and parts of the stormed prisons were damaged.
Those sentenced to death with Morsi on Saturday include the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie, as well as one of the Arab world’s best known Islamic scholars, the Qatar-based Youssef al-Qaradawi.
In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the sentencing to death of some 70 Palestinians in the prison break case was “regrettable” and “shocking,” adding that “some of those convicted were killed before the Egyptian revolution and others are serving prison terms in Israel.”
Hezbollah and Hamas operatives who had been convicted and sentenced to jail terms over terror-related charges were also broken out of jail in 2011. Hundreds of protesters were killed during the uprising and dozens of police stations across the country were stormed by demonstrators. Pro-government media maintain that the jailbreaks and the attacks on police stations were part of a Brotherhood plot to spread fear and chaos to ensure the fall of Mubarak.
Morsi already is serving a 20-year sentence following his conviction on April 21 on charges linked to the killing of protesters outside a Cairo presidential palace in December 2012.
The former president escaped a death sentence in a separate case before el-Shami related to allegations that Morsi, several of his aides and leaders of the Brotherhood allegedly passed state secrets to foreign groups, including Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, during his year in office. A total of 16 senior Brotherhood leaders and aides were sentenced to death by el-Shami in that case. The 16 include one woman, Sondos Assem, a presidential press aide who is now a fugitive.
A verdict on Morsi’s role in that case will be announced in the June 2 hearing.
Report compiled with information from Associated Press.
Ousted Egyptian president sentenced for role in jailbreak
An Egyptian court has pronounced death sentences on ousted president Mohammed Morsi and more than 100 other people over a mass prison break in 2011. CCTV’s Adel El Mahrouky filed this report.