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Morsi, secular camp in the dock for 'insulting' Egypt judiciary

Egyptian authorities, in a clampdown on all forms of opposition, have put former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and several secular leaders on trail. They stand accused of contempt of court for their comments on different platforms.

world Updated: May 23, 2015 16:32 IST

Ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, along with several secular figures behind Egypt's 2011 uprising go on trial today, as the authorities clampdown on all forms of opposition.

This trial, for "insulting the judiciary", is the fifth for Morsi. He was sentenced to death last week over a mass prison break during the uprising against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Morsi and other Islamist opponents of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are back in the dock, along with several liberal and secular opposition leaders.

Twenty-six defendants, including a few al-Sisi supporters, stand accused of contempt of court over comments made in parliament, speeches, on social media or in interviews.

"The crackdown against the opposition is only intensifying and the judiciary is very much at the forefront of this crackdown," said Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Centre for Middle East Policy. "The trial will be kind of a test case of what the regime is thinking, not just of Islamists but also of the liberal and secular opposition as well" he added.

Alaa Abdel Fattah, a top secular activist behind the protests that led to the downfall of President Mubarak, is among many the defendants. Already in prison for participating in an "illegal protest" in November 2013, he has been charged over comments on Twitter on 2011 raids on the offices of foreign civil society groups.

Amr Hamzawy, a well-known political science professor and former MP, and human rights lawyer Amir Salem are also among the defendants. Alongside Abdel Fattah, they had called for Morsi's ouster.

Morsi was toppled in July 2013 by al-Sisi, who was the army chief back then, following mass street protests against Morsi's turbulent year in power.

A sweeping government crackdown, overseen by al-Sisi since 2013, has targeted all Morsi supporters. Hundreds died in clashes with security forces and thousands are still in jail. Many more have been sentenced to death after speedy mass trials. The United Nations described this as "unprecedented in recent history".

Human Rights groups accuse the authorities of using the judiciary as a tool to crush all kinds of opposition, Islamist and secular.

While Morsi and some leaders of his blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood have been sentenced to death in other trials, the judiciary has also sentenced several secular activists to long jail terms. The latest trial is an example of "political revenge", said defence lawyer Gamal Eid, who is representing Abdel Fattah.

Former MP Mostafa al-Naggar is being tried for his criticism of the judiciary after a court verdict in June 2012. The court had sentenced Mubarak to a life term over the deaths of 800 protesters during the 2011 revolt. The verdict triggered angry protests demanding the death penalty for the veteran autocrat. An appeals court overturned that verdict and ordered a retrial, which saw murder charges dropped against Mubarak. "What I said in parliament was not an insult to the judiciary, but a call for judicial independence and reform," Naggar told AFP.

First Published: May 23, 2015 15:00 IST