The Cairo Criminal Court sentenced former President Mohamed Morsi and 14 co-defendants to 20 years in a maximum security prison on Tuesday morning at the Police Academy. The case pertains to the bloody clashes that took place outside Ettehadiya Presidential Palace in December 2012.
The defendants were found innocent of premeditated murder and the possession of unlicensed weapons, but guilty of inciting violence.
Several controversial questions have arisen in light of this trial. Is it an act of score-settling between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood? Is the general prosecution striving to avenge itself and punish Morsi for his transgressions against the judiciary while he was in office? How neutral are the prosecutors involved? Has this case resurfaced only as a result of Morsi’s ouster?
This is the first verdict issued against Morsi, who is standing trial in four other cases.
Mada Masr asks prosecuting lawyer Hoda Nasrallah from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights about the case.
Nasrallah’s client is political activist Ola Shahba, who was physically and sexually assaulted near the presidential palace. She filed charges against the 15 defendants, accusing them of responsibility for her assault.
The office of the general prosecutor, however, dropped the charges of sexual assault, and investigated just physical assault and battery.
Mada Masr: What is the original context for this case?
Hoda Nasrallah: These events date back to the rallies of December 4, 2012, when throngs of anti-regime protesters converged upon the Ettehadiya Presidential Palace in light of the constitutional declaration then-President Mohamed Morsi unilaterally issued on November 22.
Prior to these protests, Islamist groups had been accustomed to occupying squares and public spaces ahead of political rallies.
The numbers of anti-regime protesters dwindled outside the palace on the morning of December 5. Clashes commenced when Morsi supporters attacked them, abducted and unlawfully interrogated many of them, then handed them over to police.
It became clear that the president’s loyalists had come out in larger numbers, and with more firearms. A large number of injuries were reported in the course of the clashes, along with 10 fatalities.
The police referred 54 individuals abducted by Morsi loyalists to the prosecution. However, the general prosecution ordered their release — despite Morsi’s statements to the contrary in a televised address delivered on December 6.
MM: Who are the defendants in this case?
HN: Initially, when prosecutors first filed their charges in this case, the accused included Alaa Hamza, who appeared in videos posted by the Brotherhood revealing his involvement in the interrogation of the abducted protesters, and Islamist activists Abdelrahman Ezz and Ahmed al-Mughayer.
However, the timeline of this trial reveals that prosecutors added further defendants to this case as of June 17, 2013 — shortly before Morsi’s ouster.
The defendants later added to the case include Morsi, influential Muslim Brotherhood leaders Mohamed al-Beltagy and Essam al-Erian, and aides Asaad al-Sheikha, Ahmed Abdel Aaty, Ayman Hodhod and Wadgy Ghoneim.
MM: In light of these events, there’s been a lot of talk about a plot to storm the presidential palace. Has this been mentioned at any stage of this court case?
HN: The defendants have spoken of a plot to storm the palace, in what they describe as a coup planned against the “legitimate president.”
But witness accounts have shed light on this claim. The most common account among the witnesses is that one of the palace gates was already open. According to them, several protesters saw individuals in civilian clothes waving to them from within, inviting them to enter the palace grounds. However, leaders of the protest marches refused to storm the palace, as they were aware of the serious and dangerous repercussions of such an act.
There’s also the bulldozer incident. Defense lawyers claimed that protesters had deployed a bulldozer and attempted to breach the palace walls by tearing down one of the gates.
However, the prosecution produced evidence that clarified the context of this incident. It was revealed that it occurred two or three weeks after the clashes by the palace, and was the work of one individual acting on his own, without the support of protesters or rallies.
MM: Some fear that this case is being exploited to settle political scores between the current administration and the Muslim Brotherhood, or that more death sentences will be issued, as in several recent court verdicts. What is your opinion?
HN: We were clear at the court hearings. We called for the maximum penalty, while clarifying that we oppose the death sentence on principle.
Yes, it is clear that there has been a deluge of death sentences, along with handing down inflated penalties to defendants affiliated with the Brotherhood in general.
However, the fact remains that during the course of the year in which they held power, the Brotherhood committed crimes that necessitate legal prosecution.
MM: My final question relates to the fact that you are one of the claimants involved in filing criminal charges against ousted President Hosni Mubarak pertaining to his involvement in the murders of protesters.
How do the two court cases against these two former presidents differ? Is there a difference in the performance or objectivity of the general prosecution in the two trials, for example? Is the court taking a punitive or abusive stance against Morsi?
HN: Naturally, there is a difference. Primarily the fact that the general prosecution has motivation to be biased against Morsi, in particular because of his interference in the independence of this judicial body by unilaterally replacing a general prosecutor with one of his choosing, without first referring to the appropriate judicial authority.
As for the Mubarak case, the general prosecution did not include this former president on the list of defendants accused of killing protesters until after a great deal of public pressure and street protests. It was only done several weeks after his ouster, following his provocative televised address broadcast on Al-Arabiya news channel [in which he denied murder and corruption, in April 2011].
Yet, it seems that the prosecution and court are keen to abide by the standards of a well-regulated case.
The court concluded its sessions by refusing to allow Morsi the same liberty to address the judges and the public as granted to Mubarak and [his former Interior Minister, Habib] al-Adly.
The judges explained their refusal to hear Morsi’s address on the basis that “he rejected the court and questioned its legitimacy.” But Morsi was assigned a court-appointed lawyer after he refused to hire his own defense attorney, through whom the judges heard his appeals and listened to his requests.