Egypt: Ousted President Mohamed Morsi must be brought to court and granted a lawyer

The Egyptian authorities must ensure ousted President Mohamed Morsi appears in court tomorrow and is granted immediate access to a lawyer and all his rights of defence, said Amnesty International today.

The former president and 14 others, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party and other Islamist groups, are due to stand trial today on charges of murder and inciting violence.

Morsi and several of his aides have been held virtually incommunicado and in secret detention since 3 July in conditions that amount to enforced disappearance. Lawyers representing the Muslim Brotherhood have told Amnesty that they doubt that Morsi will be brought to court for the hearing.

The charges against Morsi relate to violent clashes between his supporters and opponents on 5 and 6 December outside the presidential palace known as “Ittihadiya”. They include charges of murder, attempted murder, holding and torturing civilians, thuggery and threatening civilians, as well as spreading rumours affecting the work of public institutions. Mr Morsi also faces separate charges of breaking out of Wadi Elnatroon prison during Egypt's 2011 revolution, and assisting others in doing so with the help of the Palestinian movement Hamas, and of abducting security personnel and insulting the Egyptian judiciary.

Morsi and Asaad al-Shikha, a former presidential aide, have been questioned without their lawyers present. Both men have been denied access to a lawyer and have been unable to effectively challenge the legality or conditions of their detention. Morsi has only been allowed to contact his family once since he was detained and his lawyers have told Amnesty that he considers the charges, the court panel and the current government to be illegitimate. Mr Morsi's lawyers also informed Amnesty that they were only given access to the full 7,000-page-long case file against their client on 30 October, and they had to pay a fee of £1,350 to obtain a copy of the file.

'Today’s trial is a test for the Egyptian authorities.

'They should present Mohamed Morsi in court and grant him a fair trial, including the right to challenge the evidence against him in court. Failing to do so would further call into question the motives behind his trial.

'Mohamed Morsi was denied access to his lawyers while he was being interrogated and investigated. This significantly undermines his right to a fair trial. His enforced disappearance is also a serious human rights violation in itself and must be ended right away. He must be either released or transferred to a recognised place of detention and immediately given regular access to his family and lawyers.

'Unacceptable obstacles are being placed before the defence. The delay in handing over the case file leaves the lawyers with insufficient time to prepare their defence, in breach of Egypt’s human rights obligations.'
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director

Amnesty also has concerns that justice is being undermined due to irregularities in the legal process in the trials of other Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Morsi's trial, along with 14 others including the Muslim Brotherhood politician Mohamed El-Beltagy, will be held in a building annexed to Tora prison called the Tora Police Institute. Lawyers told Amnesty that they object to holding trials inside prisons as it undermines the presumption of innocence. It also may interfere with the right to a public hearing.

Meanwhile, many Muslim Brotherhood leaders were questioned in prison rather than at the Prosecutor’s office or in the court complex. Several trials of Muslim Brotherhood leaders and Islamists have also been postponed because the Ministry of Interior has failed to bring the defendants to the court for security reasons. For example, the trial of Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a Salafist leader, has been postponed three times because he was not brought into the court. His next hearing is scheduled for 18 November. The trials of the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Badie and his deputies Khairat Elshater and Rashad Bayoumy have also been postponed after the defendants failed to appear before the court.

Ittihadiya violence

On 5 and 6 December 2012 opponents of Mohamed Morsi held a large sit-in outside the presidential palace to protest against his decision to call a referendum on a draft constitution rushed through by an Islamist-dominated assembly. Muslim Brotherhood supporters subsequently responded to a call to rally outside the palace to prevent it being overrun. Police did not intervene to stop the violence as people on both sides threw rocks and fire-bombs. Firearms were also used. The clashes resulted in the death of at least ten people and the injury of hundreds of others.

Since 3 July this year, hundreds of Morsi supporters demanding his reinstatement have been killed in clashes with security forces. In the bloodiest incident, the 14 August dispersal by security forces of the pro-Morsi sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya, an estimated 486 people were killed. No charges have been brought against any members of the security forces for unlawful killings in this incident.

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