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Egypt Court Sentences Morsi to 20 Yrs  04/21 06:26

   CAIRO (AP) -- An Egyptian criminal court on Tuesday sentenced ousted 
Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to 20 years in prison on charges linked to 
the killing of protesters in 2012, the first verdict to be issued against the 
country's first freely elected leader.

   The ruling, which can be appealed, and muted Islamist reaction following it 
underscore the dramatic downfall of Morsi and Egypt's once-powerful Muslim 
Brotherhood group. However, Morsi escaped receiving a death sentence in the 
case.

   Morsi and the Brotherhood swiftly rose to power in elections after autocrat 
Hosni Mubarak's 2011 ouster, only to find themselves imprisoned a year later 
when millions protested against them for abusing power and the military 
overthrew the government.

   But as Mubarak and members of his government increasingly find themselves 
acquitted of criminal charges, Morsi and the Brotherhood are at the receiving 
end of heavy-handed sentences.

   Tuesday's 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 absentia.

   In addition to Morsi, 12 Brotherhood leaders and Islamist supporters, 
including Mohammed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian, also were sentenced to 20 
years in prison.

   Youssef dropped murder charges involved in the case 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 December 
2012. Morsi's supporters attacked opposition protesters demanding that Morsi 
call off a referendum on an Islamist-drafted constitution. Clashes developed 
into deadly confrontations overnight that killed at least 10 people.

   During Tuesday's hearing, Morsi and the rest of the defendants in white 
jumpsuits raised the four-finger sign symbolizing the sit-in at the Rabaah 
al-Adawiya mosque, where hundreds were killed when security forces violently 
dispersed the sprawling sit-in by Morsi's supporters on Aug. 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 court appearances, Morsi and other defendants turned their 
backs to the court when Youssef played several videos of the clashes outside 
the palace in 2012.

   From his exile in Turkey's capital, Istanbul, top 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," 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 mass death sentences, sparking international condemnation.

   The heavy sentences have raised questions about the independence of Egypt's 
judiciary, something analysts say could have contributed to the sentence Morsi 
received Tuesday.

   "Morsi's trial gripped international attention and a heavy sentence would 
have put the judiciary under a spotlight," said Sameh Eid, a former Brotherhood 
member who researches Islamic movements. "Today, the judiciary seemed keen in 
preserving its image."

   Yet, average Egyptians have seen the differences between the trials of Morsi 
and Mubarak, political science professor Hassan Nafaa said.

   "People are not reassured of the fairness of these trials," Nafaa said.

   Morsi faces four other trials on charges that vary from 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.

   Morsi is being held at a high security prison near the Mediterranean city of 
Alexandria. Tuesday's hearing took place amid heavy security, as hundreds of 
black-clad riot police deployed at the police academy, backed by armored 
vehicles.


(KA)


 
 
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