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Jailed Brotherhood leader scoffs at Egypt courts

Wednesday - 4/2/2014, 12:46am  ET

Leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Badie, bottom center, and senior Brotherhood figurer Salah Soltan, right, gesture, during an appearance at a courtroom in Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. Badie has called from his cage on judges to fight against smearing their profession. Badie appeared in court Tuesday for the opening of a new trial in which he and 50 members of the group are facing charges ranging for threatening to destabilize the country to plotting to kidnap the country’s former powerful military chief. (AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid)

SARAH EL DEEB
Associated Press

CAIRO (AP) -- The jailed leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood scoffed at the series of mass tribunals against his group and demanded judges not let the courts be politicized, speaking from his defendants cage Tuesday at the stormy opening of a new trial of him and 50 others.

The session saw many of the courtroom tensions that have plagued most of the trials so far. Defendants broke out into chants. At one point, the presiding judge screamed "Shut up" at one defendant. All the defense lawyers walked out of the Cairo courtroom to press their demands the judge recuse himself.

In the new trial, Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and the other defendants in the case face charges including plotting to bring down the constitution, establish an "alternative government" and kidnap Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi -- the military chief who ousted the Islamist president last summer and who last week stepped down from his post to run in upcoming presidential elections.

The wave of mass trials is the latest phase of the heavy crackdown waged against supporters of Mohammed Morsi since his ouster. At least 16,000 people have been arrested -- and hundreds killed -- including most of the leadership of his Muslim Brotherhood.

The trials have raised criticism from rights groups, particularly after one court sentenced more than 500 to death after a trial that lasted only two sessions. The military-backed interim government has branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, alleging it has plotted violence since Morsi's removal. The Brotherhood denies the claims, saying the prosecutions are intended to give a legal veneer to what they call a coup that removed an elected president.

Badie is a defendant in a number of trials, including one mass tribunal of hundreds of defendants in the city of Minya, on murder charges that carries possible death penalties. One charge in the current trial -- forming a group that uses terrorism -- could also carry the death penalty.

On trial with him in the case that opened Tuesday are several Brotherhood spokesmen, including Gehad el-Haddad, the group's main spokesman to Western media, as well as a dual U.S.-Egyptian citizen, Mohammed Soltan, who is the son of prominent Brotherhood member Salah Soltan and has been on hunger strike for over two months and was unable to walk unassisted.

The trial's opening, which lasted nearly half an hour, was rowdy. As the judge entered the courtroom, the defendants sang the national anthem, and chanted: "Free men are in prison cells. Revolutionaries are in the squares."

When Judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata officially noted the disruption in court records, Soltan shouted from the cage that he can't hear.

"Shut up!" Shehata brusquely snapped back at him -- a break in judicial decorum that prompted further outcry from the defendants and their lawyers.

In response, the defense lawyers asked the judge to recuse himself from the case accusing him of "humiliating" the defendants. The judge initially ignored their request, prompting the lawyers to withdraw from the courtroom.

After a recess, Shehata adjourned the session to April 6 to allow the lawyers time to appeal to another court for his removal from the case.

Lawyers say in recent judicial history, almost no such demands for a judge's recusal have been accepted, predicting that such tension with the judge would continue.

Speaking during the recess, Badie derided his various trials, saying he faces a death sentence in a trial he never attended. For security reasons, Badie is not being taken to Minya for his trial there -- meaning he is officially listed as "in absentia" in the case, even though he is in custody in a Cairo prison.

"Is this law? Is this a judiciary?" he said. He called on judges not to accept that the profession be "insulted at the hands of some judges."

He pointed to how one of his sons was killed in a police crackdown on protests, as was a daughter of another senior Brotherhood figure Mohammed el-Beltagy. "And then they accuse us of being killers. This is the real coup," he said.

Another defendant, Mourad Aly, said the judge's outburst of "shut up" was the "theme of the times we are living in."

"They want to muzzle us," he said from the cage.

The defendants in the case are accused of running an operation that led to a campaign of violence after Morsi's ouster and falsified news to promote their cause. Prosecutors allege the campaign included attacks on state institutions and plans to kidnap el-Sissi and interim President Adly Mansour and set up an alternative government "by force."

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