CAIRO — An Egyptian court upheld a death sentence against former president Mohamed Morsi on Tuesday as it issued sweeping judgments against him and dozens of his Muslim Brotherhood allies.
The court decisions mark the latest move by authorities to punish and discredit Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Islamist-inspired government was ousted by the military in 2013.
The rulings also showed the increasingly tough stance of the current government, led by former army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, toward political opponents more than four years after the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring.
Amid political upheavals, Egypt’s courtrooms have become the stage for a complex — at times confusing — array of claims and condemnations against Morsi’s network and the ousted regime of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi, in a blue prison uniform, listened quietly Tuesday as the judge confirmed a death sentence issued in May against him and three others for a major jailbreak during the 2011 revolution that brought down Mubarak.
Some defendants had chanted “Down, down with military rule” as they entered the courtroom.
In addition, death sentences were handed out in absentia to more than 80 perceived backers of the Brotherhood and others, including Sondos Assem, a woman who ran a Brotherhood Twitter account.
The head of a three-judge panel, Shaaban al-Shami, said the death sentence against Morsi was affirmed after consultations with Egypt’s grand mufti, regarded by the government as the highest Islamic scholar. The mufti’s opinion is needed on cases involving capital punishment.
“The court panel has unanimously agreed that there is no room for leniency or mercy for the defendants,” Shami said.
In Washington, the State Department said it was “deeply troubled” by the decision confirming the death sentences for Morsi and others. “We have consistently spoken out against the practice of mass trials and sentences, which are frequently used against members of the opposition and non-violent activists,” spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. “This practice — which in this instance was directed against, among others, a former elected president — is unjust and undermines confidence in the rule of law.”
Earlier, in a separate case, the court issued life sentences against Morsi and 16 top Brotherhood officials, including “supreme guide” Mohammed Badie. In Egypt, a life sentence is equivalent to a 25-year prison term.
Shami cited prosecutors’ claims that the Brotherhood received military training in the Gaza Strip from the militant group Hamas and leaked state secrets to Iran, which reached out to Morsi’s government after decades of opposing Mubarak. No direct evidence of these claims was made public during the court proceedings.
The Brotherhood emerged from repression under Mubarak to become the most organized and politically powerful faction in Egypt in the wake of the Arab Spring. Morsi became the country’s first democratically elected president but soon ran afoul of the military and others, who accused him of abuse of power.
Morsi’s court-appointed attorney said Tuesday that he would appeal the death sentence, the Reuters news agency reported. The other verdicts also can be appealed.
Amid the political turmoil, Egypt faces escalating violence from insurgent groups. Last week, militants armed with explosives and weapons battled security forces outside an ancient temple in Luxor, a major tourist site.
Murphy reported from Washington.