Egypt unrest: Mohammed Morsi absence halts Cairo trial

As Orla Guerin reports, the hearing was over almost as soon as it had begun

The trial of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi has been adjourned after officials said bad weather had stopped his helicopter from taking off.

Other defendants arrived at the police compound by helicopter but Mr Morsi was said to still be in jail in Alexandria.

One of the defendants shouted in court that the trial was unconstitutional.

Mr Morsi and 14 other Muslim Brotherhood figures are accused of inciting the killing of protesters outside a presidential palace in 2012.

He was removed by the army last July after demonstrations against his rule.

In court

The heavily guarded hearing was over almost as soon as it began - but not before chaos erupted in court, just as it had during the first session in November. Journalists clambered over seats, trying to get closer to the metal cage that housed the accused.

One of the accused, Essam al-Erian, shouted that he and other defendants had been brought to court in the middle of the night, against their will. He said the hearing was illegal and unconstitutional. A lawyer shouted back that he should keep his opinions to himself.

When an Egyptian journalist tried to ask about a hunger strike by Mr al-Erian and other Muslim Brotherhood members, another local journalist shouted: "Let them have a hunger strike, we don't care!"

State TV initially reported that Mr Morsi had arrived in court, but this was not the case. The presiding judge blamed bad weather but many may have their doubts.

Defence lawyers claimed he was kept away because of next week's vote on a new constitution. It's widely viewed as a referendum on the popularly-backed coup that removed Mr Morsi last July.

His supporters have since held regular protests calling for his reinstatement.

A helicopter carrying some of the defendants arrived at the National Police Academy complex in Cairo for the hearing early on Wednesday, correspondents said.

State media had initially said Mr Morsi was also there; however, state news agency Mena later said his arrival had been delayed by bad weather.

The court session began at about 11:15 (09:15 GMT) but was immediately adjourned until 1 February, a decision that the presiding judge put down to weather conditions, the BBC's Orla Guerin reports.

Outside the court the sun was shining.

Mr Morsi is being held more than 130 miles (210km) away at Burj al-Arab prison west of Alexandria, where the weather was cloudy and windy.

But the gusts were not strong enough to affect flights, reporters said. There was no mention of weather-related cancellations on the city airport's website.

Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood called the claims about the weather "risible" and "easily disputed".

In a statement from its London office, the Brotherhood called the trial a "sham" and said Mr Morsi was facing "trumped up charges that hold no weight".

Four-finger salute

The deputy leader of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Essam al-Erian, shouted from the cage in which the defendants were being held that he did not recognise the trial's legitimacy and they had been brought to court against their will in the early hours of the morning.

Mr Morsi would refuse to attend the trial as his position was the same, Mr Erian said.

Security outside the Cairo police compound was very heavy.

Egyptian media said thousands of police were on alert and TV pictures showed some pro-Morsi protesters being arrested as they waved the four-finger salute adopted by supporters of the ousted president.

Tear gas and live fire were used to disperse demonstrators in the Nasr City area of Cairo, witnesses told the BBC. Several more protesters were detained during disturbances which saw tyres and some vehicles set alight.

Cairo security at police academy (8 Jan (2014) Security outside the National Police Academy in Cairo was tight before the trial was due to start
Pro-Morsi supporters block a street in Nasr City during clashes with security forces (8 Jan 2014) Pro-Morsi supporters clashed with security forces in the Nasr City area of Cairo

When Mr Morsi does return to court, he will be asked to appoint a lawyer, which he refused to do during his initial appearance.

Three trials of Mohammed Morsi

  • Incitement of supporters to commit violence and murder during break-up of December 2012 protest
  • Conspiring with foreign organisations (Hamas and Hezbollah) to commit terrorist acts
  • Murder of prison officers in prison jailbreak during 2011 uprising against President Mubarak

He also faces several other charges. At another court hearing set for the end of January, he is accused with some 130 others of murdering policemen during a mass breakout from a Cairo prison in January 2011 shortly before the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.

Human rights groups have dismissed some of the allegations against him as preposterous.

Egyptian officials insist Mr Morsi will be given a fair trial but lawyers trying to defend him say they have been denied access to him.

There were chaotic scenes when he first appeared in court in early November.

He insisted he was still the president and was being held against his will. Rejecting the legitimacy of the court he refused to wear a prison uniform.

Supporter of Mohammed Morsi arrested outside police compound (8 January) Several supporters were arrested outside the court compound on Wednesday morning
Mohammed Morsi was shown on state TV during his first court appearance on 4 November 2013 Mr Morsi was shown on state TV during his first court appearance on 4 November 2013

Although Mr Morsi won the presidency in a democratic election, he fell out with key institutions during his 13 months in power.

The interim government has since cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, classifying it as a terrorist organisation and arresting thousands of members. At least one thousand people have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Mr Morsi's supporters say he and other senior Brotherhood leaders are the victims of politically motivated prosecutions.

The same court is being used for the retrial of Mr Mubarak, whose life sentence for involvement in the deaths of protesters has been overturned by an appeal court.

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