CAIRO – Lawyers for Egypt's ousted president and his co-defendants walked out of court on Sunday to protest the soundproof glass cage in which defendants are held during proceedings, state TV reported.
It said judge Shaaban el-Shamy ordered a recess after the lawyers left the hearing, the first in a case in which Morsi and 35 others are facing charges of conspiring with foreign groups and undermining national security.
El-Shamy, who later ordered the trial adjourned until Feb. 23, was quoted by the private CBC TV network as telling the lawyers that the trial would proceed without them. It also reported that Morsi shouted at the start of the trial that he could not hear the proceedings.
El-Shamy sent technicians to inspect the cage to verify Morsi's claim, CBC said. The judge then ordered the volume raised to allow Morsi to better hear. The defense lawyers remained unsatisfied and walked out.
The cage was introduced after Morsi and his co-defendants interrupted the proceedings of other court cases by talking over the judge and chanting slogans. The cage is fitted to give the judge sole control over whether the defendants can be heard or not when speaking.
Morsi was ousted by the military following millions-strong protests demanding his step down after just one year in power. He, together with leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood, now face a multitude of trials on a range of charges, some of which carry the death penalty.
Egypt has since Morsi's ouster been in almost continual unrest. His supporters have been holding near daily protests demanding his reinstatement, met by a fierce security crackdown that has killed hundreds of people and arrested thousands of Brotherhood members. Meanwhile, a wave of retaliatory attacks by suspected Sinai-based militants and Morsi supporters has targeted security forces.
Throughout, the new government has depicted the Brotherhood as a violent movement and declared it a terrorist group.
The charges involved in Sunday's trial accuse the Brotherhood of being enmeshed with terrorists since 2005 in deals aimed at winning and holding onto power, of plotting the collapse of police and prison breaks during the 2011 uprising that forced autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power, and of organizing the Sinai militant backlash.
"The biggest case of conspiracy in Egypt's history goes to the criminal court," proclaimed the title of a prosecution announcement made public in December.
After his ouster, Morsi spent four months in a secret military detention before he appeared in court to face incitement to murder charges in November. In the latest trial, Morsi's co-defendants include the top leader of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, and Badie's two powerful deputies, Khairat el-Shater and Mahmoud Ezzat. Ezzat and around 17 of the defendants in the case are on the run and are being tried in absentia. They also include members of the Gaza-based Palestinian militant group Hamas.
In their statement, the prosecutors claimed that Morsi and 35 others created an international terrorist network linking jihadi militant groups in the region along with Hamas, Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guard, exchanging and revealing state secrets, sponsoring terrorism and carrying out combat training.
The investigation also alleged that the group smuggled their own members into the Gaza Strip to receive military training from Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guard to carry out operations in Sinai. It accused the group of preparing an alternative plan to declare an "Islamic state" in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, where militant groups are powerful, if Morsi lost the 2012 presidential elections. Morsi narrowly won that election, defeating the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak, Ahmed Shafiq.
Prosecutors said their investigation also showed the Brotherhood received funds from foreign countries. Investigators claim the plan began as early as 2005 and was activated in 2011 during the turmoil that accompanied the uprising against Mubarak.