An Egyptian court has sentenced ousted president Mohammed Morsi to 20 years in prison on charges linked to the killing of protesters in 2012, the first verdict issued against the country’s first freely elected leader.
The ruling and a muted Islamist reaction underscore the dramatic downfall of Morsi and Egypt’s once-powerful Muslim Brotherhood group.
However, Morsi escaped receiving a death sentence in the case, and the ruling can be subject to appeal.
Morsi and the Brotherhood swiftly rose to power in elections after autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s 2011 removal, only to find themselves imprisoned a year later when millions protested against them for abusing power and the military overthrew the government.
The verdict sparked no immediate street protests, reflecting the toll of a heavy security crackdown on any show of dissident, either by Islamists or secular-leaning activists. During the hearing, Judge Ahmed Youssef issued his verdict as Morsi and other defendants in the case – mostly Brotherhood leaders – stood in a soundproof glass cage inside a makeshift courtroom at Egypt’s national police academy. Seven of the accused were tried in their absence.
In addition to Morsi, 12 Brotherhood leaders and Islamist supporters, including Mohammed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian, were sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Judge Youssef dropped murder charges and said the sentences were linked to the “show of force” and unlawful detention associated with the case. The case stems from violence outside the presidential palace in 2012. Morsi supporters attacked opposition protesters demanding that he call off a referendum on an Islamist-drafted constitution.
Clashes developed into confrontations overnight that killed at least 10 people.
During the hearing, Morsi and the rest of the defendants in white jumpsuits raised the four-finger sign symbolising a sit-in at the Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque, where hundreds were killed when security forces violently dispersed the protest by Morsi supporters on August 14 2013. They also smiled for cameras filming the hearing.
It was a far cry from when the trial first began, when Morsi repeatedly shouted to the court: “I am the president of the republic!”
During subsequent appearances, Morsi and other defendants turned their backs to the court when Judge Youssef played videos of the clashes outside the palace in 2012.
From his exile in Turkey’s capital, Istanbul, senior Muslim Brotherhood figure Amr Darrag called the ruling “a sad and terrible day in Egyptian history”.
“They want to pass a life sentence for democracy in Egypt,” Mr Darrag said.
Under the government of president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who as army chief overthrew Morsi, Brotherhood members and Islamists have faced mass trials that end with death sentences, sparking international condemnation.
Morsi faces four other trials on charges including undermining national security by conspiring with foreign groups and orchestrating a prison break. Thousands of Brotherhood members are in jail facing a variety of charges, most linking them to violence that followed Morsi’s 2013 overthrow.
He is being held at a high security prison near the Mediterranean city of Alexandria.