Former president Mohamed Morsi awaits the final verdict in the espionage and “Prison Break” trials on Tuesday. Meanwhile, predictions regarding the fate of the defendants rest primarily on the Grand Mufti’s opinion and the current political circumstances potentially affecting the verdict.
The Cairo Criminal Court had postponed the final verdict against Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders in both cases to 16 June. The postponement coincided with President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Germany to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The court previously referred the files of the defendants to the Grand Mufti for consultation. The defendants include the former president, Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, former parliamentary speaker Saad Al-Katatni, and renowned Muslim scholar Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.
“We anticipate the court to withdraw many of the death sentences, especially those handed down to defendants in absentia,” said Mohamed Al-Damaty, spokesperson of the defence team in the prison break and espionage cases.
According to Al-Damaty, the opinion of the Grand Mufti, although consultative, will largely determine the final verdict. “There are only two possible scenarios; either the Mufti’s opinion comes in favour of the court’s ruling, which means that the death sentences would be upheld, or it comes in opposition to the court’s ruling, and in that case, the court would have the capacity to withdraw the death sentence, based in principle on the Mufti’s report.”
“Given the nature of the judiciary these days, it has become harder to predict anything, but I don’t think the court will uphold the death sentence,” said Hoda Nasrallah, lawyer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Nasrallah held the view that, on the political level, Morsi is considered a symbol for the Brotherhood and viewed as the formerly-elected, ousted president by the international community. Nasrallah added that “the death sentence could lead to an international embarrassment. However the regime might nonetheless justify the sentence, if upheld, by citing the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary arguments.”
“We were hoping that the verdict would be reached solely based on documented evidence without the interference of any external factors,” she said. However, Nasrallah added that most of the sentences are appealed; and heavy sentences of this kind are mostly given with deterrence as the objective.
Both Nasrallah and Al-Damaty mentioned that the international reactions to the death sentences given to Morsi and others play a significant role in the final outcome. Al-Damaty held the view that there is a high chance external pressure could lead to the withdrawal of the death sentences in the final verdict.
“There would definitely be agitation by the Brotherhood, in addition to international condemnation, if the death sentence is upheld,” commented Nasrallah.
The verdict could be appealed within 60 days of the court releasing the grounds of the judgement. Al-Damaty expects that the Court of Cassation would appeal the verdict because “these are political sentences, especially given the fact that the court’s core beliefs and principles are in contradiction with the defendants’ beliefs and political orientation”.
Other grounds for appeal include the presence of the soundproof glass cage that “completely separated the defendants from the defence team and the court” as well as a number of violations that disregard Egypt’s code of procedures, according to Al-Damaty.
Morsi was handed his first death sentence, alongside scores of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, on 16 May, in the Prison Break trial. According to the Egyptian penal code, Article 77 stipulates that any act that threatens the security, stability and unity of the state is punishable by death. Paragraph (b) of the article stipulates that anyone who conspires with a foreign state or agent is punished with the death penalty.
Article 88 stipulates that anyone who enables the escape of prisoners accused of the aforementioned charges receives a life sentence, and if the escape resulted in deaths, the set punishment is the death penalty.
Morsi and 34 Brotherhood members were accused of storming Wadi El-Natrun prison and escaping it in the early days of the 25 January Revolution. The charges included kidnapping police officers and detaining them in the Gaza Strip.
News of the death sentence sparked international condemnation on a wide scale, with the US, Turkey, Germany and the UK making statements in opposition to the mass death sentences and questioning the fairness of the trials.
In the espionage case, Morsi was accused, along with 35 other Brotherhood members, of leaking documents to foreign agents, including Hamas and Hezbollah. They also stand accused of funding and supporting terrorism.
Morsi was also sentenced in April to 20 years imprisonment in the ‘Presidential Palace’ case, alongside 12 other defendants. They were accused of violence that erupted outside the Presidential Palace on 5 December 2012.