x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Morsi rages inside glass cage at trial

Former president rages inside soundproof glass cage as trial over prison break resumes.

CAIRO // Egypt’s former president stood in a soundproof glass cage at the start of a new trial on Tuesday, pacing and shouting angrily.

Mohammed Morsi is on trial with 130 others, including Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and militants from the Palestinian Hamas group and Lebanon’s Hizbollah, over charges related to the prison breaks at the height of the 18-day 2011 uprising against his predecessor Hosni Mubarak. After five hours, the trial was adjourned until February 22.

The trial coincided with the third anniversary of one of the most violent days of that revolution that plunged the country into prolonged turmoil, and that eventually led to the virtual collapse of the police and their withdrawal from the streets.

The former president, removed in a popular action by the military on July 3, was wearing a white prison uniform and declared to the judges that he remains Egypt’s legitimate leader during an unaired portion of the hearing.

In footage aired on state television, Mr Morsi protested being in a cage for his trial on charges related to prison breaks in 2011. Raising his hands in the air and angrily questioning why he was in the court, Mr Morsi yelled in apparent disbelief: “Do you know where I am?”

Judge Shabaan El Shami responded: “I am the head of Egypt’s criminal court!”

It was the second time Mr Morsi has appeared in court since the coup. At his first appearance in November, Mr Morsi wore a trim, dark suit and appeared far less agitated, though he interrupted the judge and gave long speeches, declaring forcefully that he was “the president of the republic.” At the time, he had emerged from a four months detention in an undisclosed location, appearing in public for the first time since his removal.

Authorities apparently resorted to the glass-encased cage to muffle the defendants’ outbursts, which have disrupted the previous hearing. The judge controls the microphone to the cage.

Mr Morsi already faces three other trials on various charges, some of them carrying the death penalty. The charges against Mr Morsi in this case carry a life sentence.

Prosecutors in the case demanded the maximum penalty for the defendants.

“These acts were committed with the terrorist aim of terrifying the public and spreading chaos,” a prosecutor said. He said Mr Morsi and other leading Brotherhood members have plotted with foreign groups to “undermine the Egyptian state and its institutions.”

Tuesday’s case is rooted in the 2011 escape of more than 20,000 inmates from Egyptian prisons during the early days of the 18-day uprising against Mr Mubarak. Mr Morsi and the other Brotherhood leaders escaped two days after they were detained three years ago as Mr Mubarak’s security forces tried to undercut the planned protests.

At the time, authorities also cut off internet access and mobile phone networks, crippling communication among the protesters and with the outside world.

In court Tuesday, 19 other defendants appeared with Mr Morsi. Another 111 defendants, including members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hizbollah, are being tried in absentia.

The hearing was being held at a police academy complex in eastern Cairo, where a heavy security presence stood guard on Tuesday.

Earlier Tuesday, police forces lobbed tear gas and clashed with Mr Morsi’s supporters burning tires on a major street in central Cairo, kilometres from the courtroom.

Also Tuesday, local media reported that gunmen blew up a natural gas pipeline Monday night in the volatile Sinai Peninsula south of El Arish, the capital of the North Sinai governorate. It said firefighters rushed to the scene to extinguish a fire there.

Gas pipelines have come under attacks several times since Mubarak’s downfall, which led to a fracturing of Egypt’s security agencies. Suicide bombings also have spiked and spilt into the capital, Cairo, and other cities. An Al Qaida-inspired group called Ansar Beit Al Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem, has claimed responsibility for most of those attacks.

* Associated Press