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Lawyers in Muslim Brotherhood case seek new judges

Mohamed Morsy served as Egyptian president before he was ousted in a coup last year.

Story highlights

  • Glass enclosure should be removed or defendants allowed to learn sign language, lawyers say
  • The judges' refusal of that request led to the lawyers' demand that they be removed
  • "People are aware of the truth behind the coup," Morsy says

Lawyers representing Muslim Brotherhood members in a jailbreak case that includes former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy called Saturday for the judges to be changed.

As has been the case in previous proceedings, Morsy appeared in the courtroom from inside a soundproof glass box, a requirement he rejected last Sunday as a "farce."

He and a number of leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, which continues to back him, were present in the courtroom where they face prison-break charges stemming from the January 2011 uprising.

On Saturday, one of the defense lawyers said the glass enclosure should either be removed or the defendants should be given a sign language expert -- and time to learn sign language -- before proceedings continue so they can communicate with their lawyers in private, as the law requires they be allowed to do.

The three-judge panel's refusal led to the request that they be changed.

Typically, another judge or panel would look into the demand for change, though it was not clear Saturday which judicial district would do so.

Judge Shaaban El-Shamy adjourned the case until Monday.

"The glass dock is to humiliate the defendants," Mohamed Selim El-Awa, the lead attorney, said Sunday. "This is unprecedented in the world."

A glitch in the sound system that had allegedly made it difficult for defendants Sunday to hear what was going on in the courtroom appeared to have been repaired by Saturday.

During Saturday's proceeding, defense lawyer Kamal Mandour filed a complaint against what he described as crimes committed by the military leaders of last year's coup, in which the nation's first democratically elected president was deposed.

As Mandour ticked off the coup leaders' alleged crimes -- among them obstruction of the constitution and staging the coup -- Morsy added "and for killing over 3,000 people" in sit-ins.

Mandour continued, "and for the ongoing killings in the face of peaceful protests."

He called for an investigation into the crimes "to stop the ongoing bloodshed."

Another defense lawyer, Mohamed El-Damaty, called for the case against Morsy and the others to be dismissed "because it was borne out of the womb of the counterrevolution that happened on July 3." That was a reference to Morsy's removal last year from the presidency and by Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Most of the leaders of the January 25, 2011, revolution that toppled longtime strongman Hosni Mubarak and led to Morsy's election the following year, especially Islamists, "have been thrown into prison with fictitious evidence," El-Damaty said.

He called the continuing legal wrangling an attempt to uproot the Muslim Brotherhood and to "uphold the foundation of the counterrevolution and military dictatorship."

But the prosecution objected to the arguments, describing them as political and irrelevant to the case.

The defense attorneys' arguments were all about "the country, the political scene and targeted messages," the prosecutor said.

"The prosecution has no right to object," responded defense attorney Mohamed Abu Leila, who requested that the judges overseeing the case be changed. It is his right to say things that the prosecutor may not understand, but which could prove useful later in the case, he said.

Morsy himself was allowed to speak twice.

"Farces take place in your presence," he said in remarks directed to the judge that were referring to a recording leaked to the news media of what he had thought was a private conversation between him and his lawyer.

He maintained that he remains the country's legitimate president and called upon the people of Egypt to continue "their peaceful revolution."

"People are aware of the truth behind the coup," Morsy said.

Morsy repeated his earlier assertion that the court proceeding was unconstitutional, describing it in English as "null and void."

Morsy has been charged with inciting the killings of political opponents and organizing a 2011 jailbreak by members of his then-banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Morsy, the former head of the Brotherhood's political arm, won office in 2012. Shortly after he was elected, he resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice party in an effort to show he would represent all Egyptians.

But he was ousted in a coup a year later amid widespread protests against his rule, with opponents accusing him of pursuing an Islamist agenda and excluding other factions from the government.

Morsy and other Brotherhood leaders were rounded up after the coup.

The Brotherhood had long been suppressed during the 29-year rule of Mubarak. But it emerged as the most powerful political force in Egypt after the popular revolt that toppled Mubarak in 2011.

Rights groups and other pundits say the military-backed government that replaced Morsy has returned to the authoritarian practices of Mubarak, if not worse.