CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s toppled President Mohammed Morsi stood inside a glass-encased metal cage Tuesday, separated from other defendants for the start of a new trial Tuesday over charges from prison breaks during the country’s 2011 revolution, state television reported.
Egypt’s state news agency MENA reported that Morsi flew by helicopter from Borg al-Arab prison in Alexandria. Only 19 other of the 129 defendants in the case, including the leader of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group and other leading figures, are held by authorities. The rest, including members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, are on the run.
Egypt’s state television broadcast exclusively from the courtroom. Its reporter said Morsi appeared in a separate cage from the other defendants in the case. He said defendants turned their back to the court, a form of protest of their prosecution.
The case is rooted in the 2011 escape of more than 20,000 inmates from Egyptian prisons — including Morsi and other Brotherhood members, during the early days of the 18-day uprising against ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Authorities accuse Morsi and the other defendants of plotting to “destroy the Egyptian state and its institutions,” conspiring with the foreign groups who infiltrated to Egypt through Gaza and using the turmoil during the uprising to organize the prison breaks. The prosecutors said more than 800 foreign fighters entered Egypt through Gaza to take part in storming of three prisons and killed a number of police officers and inmates.
A Brotherhood lawyer has said the trial appears aimed at “denigrating” Morsi and the Brotherhood.
It is Morsi’s second court appearance since Egypt’s popularly backed July 3 military coup. He missed a Jan. 8 hearing in another trial after security officials said bad weather grounded a helicopter meant to bring him.
The hearing is at a police academy complex in eastern Cairo, where a heavy security presence stood guard Tuesday. State television showed briefly showed live footage from inside the courtroom before the trial started.
Morsi is facing three other trials on different charges as well. Only one of those trials, where he is accused of inciting murder of his opponents while in office, has begun. Many of the charges he faces carry the death sentence.
In his first appearance, Morsi insisted he was still the country’s legitimate president and challenged the legitimacy of the court, regularly interrupting the judges and prosecutors. The glass window over the metal cage is apparently to muffle the defendants’ outbursts.
Since Morsi’ ouster in July 3 in a popularly backed military coup, hundreds of senior Brotherhood leaders have been arrested in a widening crackdown against a group that authorities accuse of retaliating to Morsi’s removal with a violent campaign. Hundreds of supporters also have been killed in security crackdown on protests that often turned violent. The group denies using violence to achieve its goal of having Morsi reinstated.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Morsi supporters clashed with police officers, with television footage showing protesters burn tires and police shooting tear gas canisters. Tuesday marked the third anniversary of the “Friday of Rage,” one of the most violent days of the 2011 uprising when protesters and police clashed for hours before police withdrew from the streets and the military deployed.
Meanwhile, the interior ministry said two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed a senior police officer as he left his home in the Haram district of Giza, a Cairo neighborhood. Maj. Gen. Mohammed El-Said was the head of the technical office in the interior ministry, which is in charge of police.
Also Tuesday, MENA reported that gunmen blew up a natural gas pipeline Monday night in the volatile Sinai Peninsula south of el-Arish, the capital of the North Sinai governorate. It said firefighters rushed to the scene to extinguish a fire there.
Gas pipelines have come under attacks several times since Mubarak’s downfall, which led to a fracturing of Egypt’s security agencies. Suicide bombings also have spiked and spilled into the capital, Cairo, and other cities. An al-Qaida-inspired group called Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Champions of Jerusalem, has claimed responsibility for most of those attacks.
Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef contributed to this report.