An Egyptian court today sentenced ousted president Mohammed Morsi and more than 100 other people to death over a mass prison break during the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
As is customary in passing capital punishment, Judge Shaaban el-Shami referred his death sentence on Morsi and others to the nation's top Muslim theologian, or mufti, for his non-binding opinion. He set June 2 for the next hearing.
Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, was ousted by the military in July 2013 following days of mass street protests by Egyptians demanding that he be removed because of his divisive policies. Morsi's successor, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, was the military chief at the time and led the ouster. El-Sissi ran for president last year and won the vote in a landslide.
Morsi already is serving a 20-year sentence following his conviction on April 21 on charges linked to the killing of protesters outside a Cairo presidential palace in December 2012.
'Intense scenes' from courtroom after verdict read
Also sentenced to death with Morsi in the prison break case were a total of 105 defendants, most of them tried and convicted in absentia. They include some 70 Palestinians. Those tried in absentia in Egypt receive automatic retrials once detained.
Supporters of Morsi and his now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood chanted "down, down with military rule" as the verdict was announced in the courtroom, a converted lecture hall in the national police academy in an eastern Cairo suburb.
CBC's Dominic Valitis, speaking from London, said "there were some intense scenes from the court this morning as the verdicts were read out," but the streets of Cairo remained quiet.
Even if the non-binding opinion backs the death sentence, Morsi could, and will, appeal, Valitis said, citing Morsi's lawyer.
Prosecutors have alleged in the case that armed members of the Palestinian Hamas group entered Egypt during the 18-day uprising through illegal tunnels running under Gaza's border with Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
Taking advantage of the uprising's turmoil, the militants fought their way into several prisons, releasing Morsi, more than 30 other Brotherhood leaders and some 20,000 inmates, prosecutors say. Several prison guards were killed and parts of the stormed prisons were damaged.
Escaped death sentence once before
The former president escaped a death sentence in a separate case before el-Shami related to allegations that Morsi, several of his aides and leaders of the Brotherhood allegedly passed state secrets to foreign groups, including Hamas group and Lebanon's Hezbollah, during his one year in office.
A total of 16 senior Brotherhood leaders and aides were sentenced to death by el-Shami in that case. A verdict on Morsi's role in that case will be announced in the June 2 hearing.
Even if confirmed by the mufti, Saturday's death sentences still can be appealed.
Muslim Brotherhood official Amr Darrag condemned the Egyptian court's decision Saturday, and called on the international community to take action.
"This is a political verdict and represents a murder crime that is about to be committed, and it should be stopped by the international community," Darrag, co-founder of the dissolved Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, told Reuters in Istanbul.