CAIRO (Reuters) - Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mursi was sentenced to 20 years in prison without parole on Tuesday on charges arising from the killing of protesters, nearly three years after he became Egypt’s first freely elected president.
Mursi stood in a cage in court as judge Ahmed Sabry Youssef read out the ruling against him and 12 other Brotherhood members, including senior figures Mohamed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian. The sentencing was broadcast live on state television.
The men were convicted on charges of violence, kidnapping and torture stemming from the killing of protesters during demonstrations in 2012. They were acquitted of murder charges, which carry the death sentence.
A lawyer for some of the defendants said they would appeal.
The United States expressed “concern” about the verdict but did not indicate that it would affect diplomatic relations with Egypt, a strategic U.S. ally in the Middle East.
“Mr. Mursi, like all other defendants, must be afforded the basic legal right of due process. And the United States continues to be strongly opposed to politicized arrests and detentions,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
Amnesty International described the ruling as “a travesty of justice” that “shatters any remaining illusion of independence and impartiality in Egypt’s criminal justice system”.
The London-based human rights group called for Mursi to be retried in a civilian court “in line with international standards” or released.
Leading Egyptian cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, who lives in pro-Brotherhood Qatar, criticized the ruling.
“The judiciary in Egypt is no longer one of the three (branches of) power. Instead, all the powers and the country itself are now run by the military,” he said in a statement.
Egypt’s U.S.-backed government says the judiciary is independent and it never intervenes in its work.
Displaying a four-finger salute symbolizing resistance to the state’s crackdown on Islamists, defendants in a makeshift courtroom on the outskirts of Cairo chanted “God is Greatest” after the verdict was read.
The ruling is the first against Mursi, who says he is determined to reverse what he calls a military coup against him in 2013 staged by then-army chief, now president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Amr Darrag, a Mursi-era minister, said the Brotherhood would remain a powerful force, with younger members taking up leadership roles made vacant by the state’s crackdown.
“The overall attitude of the Brotherhood (is) more revolutionary because the generation taking it over is young and more revolutionary and they saw what kind of an Egypt we’d have if they don’t do what they have to do,” he told Reuters in an interview in Istanbul.
Mursi’s son, Osama, said his father plans a comeback despite the jail sentence.
The state news agency MENA quoted a security source saying Mursi was taken by helicopter back to Borg al-Arab prison near Alexandria, where he has been held for more than a year.
Mursi faces charges in four other cases including leaking secrets to Qatar, conspiring with the Palestinian militant group Hamas to destabilize Egypt, and organizing a jailbreak during the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.
After toppling Mursi following mass protests against his rule, Sisi proceeded to crush the Brotherhood, which he says is part of a terrorist network that poses an existential threat to the Arab and Western worlds.
The Brotherhood says it is a peaceful movement that will return to office through people power, even though demonstrations have fallen to a trickle.
Tuesday’s verdict did not appear to trigger significant protests, another sign of the Brotherhood’s waning influence.
Egypt’s deep state apparatus — the Interior Ministry, intelligence services and army — now appears to have a tighter grip than ever on the most populous Arab nation.
While Mursi has become far less relevant, even within the Brotherhood, Sisi was elected president last year, winning over many Egyptians who overlooked widespread allegations of human rights abuses for the sake of stability and economic recovery.
Egypt’s allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which also see the Brotherhood as a threat, have been pouring billions of dollars into the Egyptian economy to support Sisi since Mursi’s fall.
Hundreds of Brotherhood supporters have been sentenced to death since Mursi’s removal and thousands more detained.
By contrast, a court in November dropped its case against Mubarak over the killing of protesters in the 2011 uprising that ended his 30-year rule and symbolized hopes for a new era of political openness and accountability.
Mubarak’s sons have been released from jail pending retrial in a corruption case involving his former palaces.
Businessmen who thrived under Mubarak’s era of crony capitalism have regained influence.
Western powers that called for democracy declined to use leverage against Sisi, the latest military man to seize power.
Mursi, who rose through the ranks of the Brotherhood before winning the presidency in 2012, was a polarizing figure during his troubled year in office that followed Mubarak’s fall.
Mursi’s policies alienated secular and liberal Egyptians, who feared that the Brotherhood — the main opposition to Mubarak for decades and popular among many Egyptians for its charity work — was abusing power.Protests erupted in late 2012 after Mursi issued a decree expanding presidential powers — a move his supporters say was necessary to prevent a judiciary still packed with Mubarak appointees from derailing a fragile political transition.Those demonstrations led to the deaths of protesters, for which prosecutors argued that Mursi and other Brotherhood leaders were responsible. Mursi and his co-defendants denied the charges.
Reda Sanoussi, the brother of one of the victims, was unhappy with the dismissal of murder charges against Mursi.
“I want to enter the cage and pull out his intestines,” he told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Michael Georgy and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Giles Elgood/Mark Heinrich