Ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi has today received a 20-year jail sentence for ordering the arrest and torture of protesters.
The verdict was delivered by the Cairo Criminal Court and broadcast on state television. The Muslim Brotherhood leader was sentenced with 12 other defendants, who sat by him in a soundproof cage in the makeshift courtroom set up at the police academy in New Cairo.
Morsi was Egypt's first democratically elected president following the revolution in 2011 which removed military ruler Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood candidate received 51 percent of the vote in a June 2012 election held one year after Mubarak's resignation — the country's president from 1981 to 2011. In November, charges against Mubarak for complicity in the killing of protesters in a separate incident were dropped.
One year after his election victory, Morsi was removed through a military coup in July 2013 following mass street protests. Critics and opponents accused him of quickly moving to strengthen his hold on the country through the introduction of new extraordinary presidential powers along with a controversial constitution.
This trial, dubbed the "Presidential Palace case" because of the location where the violence took place, revolved around clashes that broke out between Islamist supporters of the government and opposition protesters on December 5, 2012. According to AP's report, Judge Ahmed Youssef said Tuesday's sentence was linked to Morsi's "show of force" against protesters, as well as their unlawful detention. Youssef dropped the murder charges that had been brought against the former president, meaning that he was spared the death penalty.
This is just the first of a string of trials that Morsi is due to face, and this sentence is also open to appeal. Further charges still to be tried include leaking state secrets to Qatar, espionage, and conspiring with Palestinian group Hamas, Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and Lebanon's Hezbollah.
Others sentenced on Tuesday include Morsi's deputy chief of staff, Assad Al-Sheikha, Mohamed El-Beltagy, general secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood's now-banned political party, and the former head of president's office, Ahmed Abdel Atty.
In response to the development, Amnesty International released a statement saying that the verdict points to a "sham trial."
"Any semblance of a fair trial was jeopardized from the outset by a string of irregularities in the judicial process and his arbitrary, incommunicado detention," they group said. "His conviction must be quashed and the authorities must order a full re-trial in a civilian court or release him."
The Muslim Brotherhood put out a statement calling the court case "a politicized show trial."
Brotherhood leader Amr Darrag also added: "The international community must speak with one voice in calling for an immediate repeal of the Morsi sentence. The United States and the United Kingdom should suspend military aid, which is only aiding and abetting Egypt's descent into brutal autocracy."
Morsi was replaced by his former defense minister Abdel Fattah Sisi, who as president has headed a harsh crackdown on the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group, now outlawed in Egypt and designated a "terrorist" organization.
The Egyptian legal system has come under huge international scrutiny recently. On Sunday, Human Rights Watch released a statement in which they criticized the recent stream of mass trials against Muslim Brotherhood members and referred to the "abject politicization of justice in Egypt."
Earlier this month, American citizen journalist Mohamed Soltan was sentenced to life imprisonment for membership of the Muslim Brotherhood during a trial where he was charged along with dozens of others.
Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has met Morsi, told VICE News that he believed the recent readiness of the Egyptian judiciary to dole out death sentences meant that the former president's sentence felt "mild" to many observers, when actually 20 years is still incredibly harsh.
Hamid also said that he believed the latest mass trial was another indicator that the Egyptian legal system is "the worst it's been in decades." "In some ways the judiciary has been even more aggressive against the Brotherhood than Sisi and the executive branch," he told VICE News.
He also noted that while this may still indicate that the judiciary does enjoy a degree of independence, "you can be independent and extremely politicized." He added: "Even if there is a degree of independence the judiciary is really on the frontline of moving against the Brotherhood."
Hamid said he believed it was unlikely that Morsi will be released in the near future given that there's no sign that "the Brotherhood are going to give up their legitimacy claim." However, he also thinks it is unlikely Morsi will be condemned to the death penalty in any upcoming trial. "It would be unprecedented in the recent history of the Arab world to execute a recent president," he continued.
Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd