Q&A: Everything You Need to Know About the Morsi Verdict
On May 16, Judge Shaaban al-Shami sentenced 122 defendants, including former president Mohamed Morsi, to death in two cases. Morsi was sentenced to death on prison break charges, and will be sentenced on espionage charges on June 2.
To find out more about the charges, verdict, and the judge who issued it, as well as how it was received locally and internationally, read below.
WHO ARE THE OTHER DEFENDANTS?
May 16 was slated as the final verdict date for two separate charges Morsi is facing.
The Prison Break Trial: During the 2011 uprising, inmates escaped from at least four prisons, including, Wadi Natroun, the prison where Morsi was being held. Morsi and several Brotherhood leaders were arrested during the January 25 uprising. On January 28, using a satellite phone, Morsi called news network, Al Jazeera, announcing his escape, and listing the other Brotherhood members with him. (On January 28, mobile phone service was suspended in “selected areas” in the country, according to Vodafone) Morsi claimed that they did not know who released them, and that over 100 people worked for four hours to break open the prison to secure their release.
In the Prison Break Trial, Morsi and his codefendants faced the following charges:
- Collaborating with foreign militants from Gaza, taking advantage of the turmoil, to orchestrate a mass prison break. (According to the prosecutors, over 800 foreign fighters crossed the border from Gaza into Egypt, storming the prisons.)
- Looting weapons.
- Murder and attempted murder of police officers.
- Torching government buildings.
- Kidnapping police officers and detaining them in the Gaza Strip.
The Espionage Trial: Morsi and his codefendants face charges relating to conspiring to commit terrorist acts in Egypt:
- Conspiring with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran's Revolutionary Guards, to commit terrorist acts in Egypt, to destabilize the country.
- Disclosing state secrets to foreign countries.
- Funding terrorism.
- Conducting military training to serve an international branch of the Brotherhood.
WHO ARE THE OTHER DEFENDANTS?
There are 106 defendants in the Prison Break Trial, including around seventy Palestinians, most of whom were tried in absentia. Other defendants include:
- Muslim Brotherhood leaders including Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, his deputy Mahmoud Ezzat, and leading Brotherhood members, Mohamed al-Beltagy, Essam al-Erian, Saad al-Husseiny, Rashad Bayoumi, Saad al-Katatny.
There are thirty-five defendants in the Espionage Trial, fourteen of whom are being tried in absentia. Other defendants include:
- Emad Shahin, a professor who has taught at the American University in Cairo, Harvard, and Notre Dame, and is currently a visiting professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.
- Brotherhood leaders including Badie, Ezzat, Shater, and Beltagy.
- Shater’s son, Hassan.
- Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric living in Qatar.
- Sondos Assem, former Brotherhood spokesperson reportedly living in the UK.
- Ibrahim al-Darawi, a journalist and director of a Cairo-based research centre specializing in Palestinian issues. Darawi will be sentenced on June 2.
WHAT WERE THE SENTENCES?
In the Prison Break Trial, Morsi and the 105 other defendants were sentenced to death.
In the Espionage Trial, sixteen defendants, among them Emad Shahin, were sentenced to death. Morsi and the other eighteen defendants will receive their verdict on June 2.
WHO IS THE JUDGE WHO SENTENCED MORSI?
Judge Shaaban al-Shami, who was presiding over both the prison break trial and the espionage trial, is the head of the North Cairo Criminal Court and the head of the Cairo Court of Appeals. He has presided over several cases relating to the Muslim Brotherhood. In his first public statements after issuing the sentence he said, “We fear nothing but God, and will serve with justice no matter the situation surrounding us.”
Prominent cases he was involved in:
- Early in his career, he was tasked with investigating the 1977 bread riots, as well as a church bombing in Shubra al-Kheima, carried out by members of al-Jama’a al-Islamiya.
- In April 2013, he sentenced Mubarak-era Finance Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali in absentia to life in prison on corruption charges.
- In June 2013, he upheld former president Hosni Mubarak’s release on bail on embezzlement charges, turning down the prosecution’s appeal.
- In December 2013, he sentenced a member of Hazem Salah Abu Ismail’s Hazemoon movement to twenty years in prison, and fined him 20,000 Egyptian pounds on charges of possession of unlicensed weapons.
- In October 2014, he sentenced nine alleged members of the Nasr City Terrorist cell to life in prison, as well as four to ten years in a maximum security prison, and another three to seven years. One defendant was acquitted.
- During the prison break trial, he sentenced Badie and twenty-five others to three years in prison for contempt of court, after they chanted void in response to his remarks.
Defense lawyers in the prison break trial had called on Shamy to recuse himself but the request was denied.
HOW DID MORSI AND OTHER DEFENDANTS REACT?
Ahead of the verdict, defendants chanted: “We are free revolutionaries, we will continue the march.” After the verdict was read, Morsi “raised his fists defiantly.”
- Emad Shahin, sentenced in absentia,issued a statement, in which he wrote, “I repeat my absolute rejection of the charges against me and note that I am hardly the only victim of injustice in this case...I condemn the sham trials engulfing Egypt since July 2013 where wholesale death sentences on flimsy or no evidence have been the mark of the current military regime.”
- Sondos Assem issued a statement on Facebook saying “This absurd ruling is based on completely false and political charges.” She added, “I will pursue all legal channels to vindicate these false charges.”
- Yussef al-Qaradawi shared a video on his Twitter account in which he condemned the verdict, describing it as “nonsense,” and saying that it violated Islamic law.
كلمتي كاملة تعليقا على مهزلة الأمس https://t.co/7Adeb4VL2x— يوسف القرضاوي (@alqaradawy) May 17, 2015
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Per Egyptian law, all death sentences are referred to the Grand Mufti for his opinion, which is nonbinding. Regardless of the Mufti’s recommendation, all defendants can appeal. Defendants sentenced in absentia are granted an automatic retrial.
Defense lawyer, Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud said on Saturday, "If he (Morsi) decides that we appeal against the verdict, then we will. If he continues to not recognize this court, then we won't appeal."
HOW HAS EGYPT HANDLED PREVIOUS DEATH SENTENCES?
Last April, 683 defendants were sentenced to death, and the verdicts were submitted to the Mufti for his review. In June, the judge confirmed 183 of the death sentences, acquitting 496, and commuting four sentences.
Since Morsi’s ouster, seven executions have been carried out:
- Mahmoud Ramadan was the first to be hanged in March, after being sentenced to death on charges relating to the murder of a teenager, pushing him from the roof of a building.
- Six convicts, sentenced to death in a military court in October 2014, were executed on Sunday morning, hours after the Morsi verdict. The men were charged with killing two military officers. According to Amnesty International, at least two of the men were in custody at the time the crime was committed. The defendants’ lawyer, Ahmed Helmy, believed his clients were scapegoated: “They used them to send a message following Morsi’s verdict that the state can indeed carry out these sentences,” he said.
In addition to the expected verdict on June 2, Morsi is also facing charges relating to:
- Endangering national security by leaking state secrets to Qatar.
- Fraud over the Muslim Brotherhood’s al-Nahda (Renaissance) - a program for Egypt’s social and economic recovery, which served as his presidential platform.
- Insulting the judiciary after accusing a judge of overseeing fraudulent elections.
Morsi is already serving a twenty year sentence on charges related to the 2012 deadly Presidential Palace protests. Morsi was acquitted of murder charges, but was convicted on charges of ordering the detention and torture of protesters.
HOW DID THE BROTHERHOOD REACT TO THE VERDICT?
- The Muslim Brotherhood and the pro-Morsi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) condemned the sentence, saying they reject the principle of trying an “elected president.” The NASL added that Egypt’s current government should face charges of espionage for sacrificing “Egypt's security and wealth for the sake of the Zionist enemy, and who stated repeatedly that their job is to protect Israel's security.”
- Brotherhood official, and a former minister under Morsi, Amr Darrag, said “This is a political verdict and represents a murder crime that is about to be committed, and it should be stopped by the international community.”
- Ahmed Ramy Elhofy, a Brotherhood member who is among those sentenced in absentia and is living in exile, said, “All the world will pay for this death sentence, will pay for their silence about the sentence, and for betraying the principles of freedom and justice.”
- A statement was issued on the Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, Mohamed Montasser's official Facebook page in Arabic on May 17, referencing the six men who were executed a day after the Morsi verdict was issued. The langauge was far more violent than seen in Brotherhood statements in English. The statement in full read:
Damned are any words or statements in this situation. Nothing speaks louder than vengeance, nothing is louder than the blood of martyrs flagrantly shed by murderers who are deterred by nothing but retaliation. Nothing works except a revolution that beheads those filthy bodies. To all revolutionaries in Egypt, to all free and honorable rebels in all of Egyptian squares, proceed with your relentless revolt uprooting injustice from Egyptian land, proceed, revolt, keep your resolve or else be wrapped in your death shroud or live in humiliation. We swear to God that the execution of these innocent youth and their bloodshed will not be forgiven. The revolution will not settle until it has eradicated all injustice. Long live the revolution, and vengeance against the murderers will be served.
HOW HAS THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY REACTED TO THE VERDICT?
United States: US State Department Spokesperson Jeff Rathke said the sentence is "unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.”
EU: High Representative/Vice president Federica Mogherini issued a statement saying the verdict was “not in line with Egypt's obligations under international law.” She added, “We are confident the sentence will be revised during the appeal process.”
UN: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he will be monitoring the appeals process, urging the promotion of rule of law.
Turkey: As was expected, Turkey had the strongest reaction to the verdict. Commenting on the verdict, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “Egypt is turning back into ancient Egypt.” Speaking to a large gathering of his supporters, Erdogan also condemned the west’s reaction, saying “While Western countries have been abolishing the death penalty, they are watching the death sentences in Egypt in complete silence.” Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said on May 18, "We are continuing our consultations firstly with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf countries. We are reviewing current mechanisms for international initiatives. We plan to start necessary initiatives soon … primarily at the UN Human Rights Committee." The verdict has also become integral to upcoming parliamentary elections on June 7, particularly for the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party. A pro-Erdogan newspaper ran a story under the headline: “Egypt’s fate is tied to June 7.” Turkish opposition parties, including the Republican People's Party and the Peoples' Democratic Party, also condemned the sentence.
Amnesty International: Amnesty issued a statement saying the verdict “shows the deplorable state of the country’s criminal justice system.” Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program, said “Condemning Mohamed Morsi to death after more grossly unfair trials shows a complete disregard for human rights. His trials were undermined even before he set foot in the courtroom.”
Hamas: Palestinian group Hamas said it rejected the sentences against its members, calling the verdict a “massacre.” Hamas also claimed that two of its members sentenced in the trial were killed, one in 2008 and the other in 2014, adding that a third has been imprisoned since 1996.
China: China was among the few countries that did not criticize the decision. On Sunday, in response to a question during a press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei said China ""believes that the domestic affairs of Egypt should be decided by the Egyptian people themselves" refusing to comment on or criticize the ruling.
Iran: Iran's Foreign Minister Spokesperson Marzieh Afkham condemned the verdict saying, "Such verdicts that encourage aggression will have a negative impact on the reputation of the ancient country of Egypt.”
Germany: Spokesperson for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel Steffen Seibert expressed Germany's rejection of the death penalty, adding that there were doubts as to the fairness of the trial, and that the issue would be discussed with Egyptian leaders.
UK: Tobias Elwood, UK's Minister for the Middle East and North Africa issued a statement saying the UK was deeply concerned by the verdict. The statement added, "We look to the Egyptian authorities to apply the rule of law consistently in line with international standards, and to protect the political and legal rights of all Egyptians as the basis for the country's future stability.
HOW HAVE EGYPTIAN AUTHORITIES RESPONDED TO THE CRITICISMS?
State Information Service: In a statement issued on Sunday, SIS said comments on the verdict reflect “ignorance and [a] lack of accuracy.” The statement added, “The Cairo Criminal Court did not issue any judicial rulings in the two cases today, but has just made two decisions to refer the cases to the Mufti for his consultative opinion, and will issue the verdict in the two cases on June 2nd.”
Foreign Ministry: In a separate statement, the Foreign Ministry said comments on the verdict represent an “"intervention in Egypt's internal affairs," which is "rejected in form and substance."
HOW HAVE OTHER EGYPTIAN POLITICAL PARTIES AND MOVEMENTS REACTED TO THE VERDICT?
On May 18, former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi tweeted "Execution is not the solution." The tweet came a day after the execution of the six men on charges of terrorism, and made no direct reference to Morsi.
The Strong Egypt party led by former Muslim Brotherhood member and presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh condemned both verdicts issued in the Prison Break and Espionage trials. In the statement, the party expressed its surprise that, in stark comparison, the judiciary had been lenient in its rulings concerning Mubarak-era figures. The party also expressed concern that Egypt was threatened with a phase of chaos.
The April 6 Youth Movement issued a statement describing the verdicts as "politicized." The statement said that the verdict was a new attempt on the part of authorities to change the narrative of the January 25 revolution, associating it with foreign fighters crossing the border into Egypt with the aim to destabilize the country.
HAS THERE BEEN A RETALIATION FOR THE VERDICT?
Since the verdict was announced, several attacks have been carried out. None of the attacks have been claimed, so it remains unclear if they were in direct response to the verdict, but at least two of the attacks were aimed at the judiciary. They are not the first time members of Egypt’s judiciary have been targeted, with three IEDs exploding near the home of a judge who had delivered lengthy sentences to Islamist defendants.
- Three judges and their driver were killed when gunmen opened fire on their vehicle on the al-Arish-Rafah international Road, heading to a North Sinai court. A fourth person who was injured reportedly died later in the day, while two others were severely injured. As a result, all trials taking place in al-Arish are being moved to Ismailia. Egypt's Minister of Transitional Justice, and interim Justice Minister, Ibrahim al-Heneidy, blamed the Brotherhood for the attack.
- Bombs targeted courthouses in two cities, wounding two people.
- At least three attacks targeting security personnel were carried out. A conscript was an injured in an attack on a checkpoint in Ismailia. Two policemen were killed, and one injured, in two separate drive-by shootings in Kerdasa and Sharqeya.
- A bomb exploded outside a church Fayoum, damaging the building. No one was injured in the attack.
- The ministry of interior declared a state of high alert, saying that heavily armored forces were to secure security directorates nationwide, and declared a state of emergency at police stations and different sectors in the ministry.
- Bombs targeting electricity pylons exploded in Aswan, knocking out power in fourteen villages, as well as in Beheira.
Attacks on security personnel and attacks targeting infrastructure, such as electricity pylons, however are a common occurrence, with electricity infrastructure attacked seven times in April, out of a total 112 terror attacks, according to a recent TIMEP report.
HOW HAS THE EGYPTIAN MEDIA RESPONDED TO THE VERDICT?
CBC’s Lamis al-Hadidy opened her TV show, not with the Mors verdict, but rather with the story of three judges and their driver, killed hours after the Morsi verdict was issued. She described them as the first victims of the trial.
On the trial itself, she criticized responses by the Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey, and Hamas to the verdict. She also compared the reaction to the Morsi verdict by rights groups to the death sentence Dzhokhar Tsarnaev received a day earlier for his role in the 2013 Boston bombings. Hadidy remarked on the silence on the part of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, noting that they did not describe his death sentence as a human rights violation. “He was tried on charges of killing four or five people,” Hadidy said. The defendants in the prison break and espionage trials, she compared, were facing much more serious charges.
Watch the full episode below (Warning: The video contains some graphic images from the attack on the judges.)
ONtv’s Ibrahim Eissa broadcast the verdict, and immediately launched into his thoughts about the Muslim Brotherhood’s natural trait of “betrayal.” He accused the Brotherhood of appealing to Hamas and Hezbollah for help, and that the group continues to risk the country in exchange for its own political gain.
Watch the entire segment below:
ONtv’s Gaber al-Arnouty points to two articles in the pro-government paper al-Bawaba which refers to Mohamed Mabrouk, a national security officer and investigator in the espionage trial. Mabrouk was shot dead in November 2013 near his home. In the articles, the writers refer to Mabrouk as a martyr for the trial, and praised him for his role in presenting evidence for the trial before his death.
Watch the segment below:
Al-Qahera al-Yawm’s Rania Badawy, like Lamees al-Hadidy, began her segment speaking about the judges killed, following up with the actual Morsi verdict. Badawy said all the information from all the state institutions - the judiciary, the presidency, the cabinet - reaffirms that there is nothing that the ‘terrorists’ can do to stop them from purging of the country of them.
Later in the show, Badawy spoke to Dr. Abdel Rehim Ali, who previously hosted another Al-Qahera al-Yawm TV show, Black Box, in which he aired recordings of private phone calls between activists, before it was suspended. Ali said the attacks that took place hours after the verdict were not in retaliation for the sentences delivered to Brotherhood leaders, or to Morsi. Instead, Ali pointed to a muted reaction to the twenty year sentenced delivered to Morsi in the presidential palace trial, and the multiple death sentences delivered to Supreme Guide Badie, as proof that the attacks on May 16 were in response to the verdict issued against Hamas’ members and that the Palestinian group carried out the attacks as a result.
Watch the segment below:
HOW HAS SOCIAL MEDIA REACTED TO THE VERDICT?
Let's be real: it is highly unlikely that #Morsi will actually be executed. Sentence likely will be reduced upon appeal.— Mohamed Khairat (@khairatmk) May 18, 2015
Doubtful #Morsi will actually be executed, but his death sentence sends a message (if not from Sisi then Egypt's judiciary).— Daniel Nisman (@DannyNis) May 16, 2015
I think the harsh ruling against #Morsi is meant to scare the islamists. An actual death sentence would raise him to the rank of martyr.— Chams Eddine Zaougui (@ZaouguiChams) May 17, 2015