A soundproof dock mutes the defendants and raises controversy
by Nada Baraka and Ahmed Mansour
Mohamed Morsi has a busy schedule this month as legal cases against the ousted president and senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood picked up speed starting in late January and early February. The defendants are sitting out their trials in a soundproof box, a controversial addition to the courtroom meant to prevent the disruptions that marked Morsi’s first court appearance in November.
January 28 marked the start of the prison break trial, with Morsi and 130 other defendants accused of colluding with terrorist organizations and murdering prison guards during their escape from prison on January 30, 2011. If found guilty, the defendants face the death penalty. On February 1, Morsi was back in court for the second session of his trial for inciting the December 2012 killings of protesters at Ittihadeya Palace.
Morsi’s first court appearance was disrupted by chants and other outbursts of defiance from the ex-president and his Brotherhood colleagues. For the new sessions, the dock was subsequently fitted with a soundproof glass panels to prevent similar disruptions. The move sparked debate among court watchers over the legality of the box.
Some analysts assert that the court has it in for the ex-president after his attempts to retire judges and circumvent the courts during his one year in office. “The judiciary does seem to be vengeful,” said Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, to The Wall Street Journal. She referred to a recent string of convictions for Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
On Twitter, Haitham Abou-Khalil, the head of the Center for Victims of Human Rights and a former Muslim Brotherhood member, said, “President Mohamed Morsi in a glass cage is solid blatant violation of rights, and the exception is unprecedented and unacceptable.”
Others feel the court acted within its rights. “Due to the court’s experience with Mohamed Morsi ‘and friends’ — that they always try as much as they can to create chaos in the courtroom to try to avoid or postpone their verdict, the glass box was a must,” says Dr. Mohamed Gamal Riyad, a professor in Cairo University’s Faculty of Law. “The judges were not able to concentrate or even listen to the witnesses or the lawyers.”
State TV footage from the January 28 trial showed the ex-president anxiously pacing in the soundproofed dock. At one point, when the dock’s microphones were turned on, Morsi shouted at the judge saying, “Who are you?” to which the judge calmly responded, “I am the head of the criminal court.”
Gamal thinks the court has been patient with the defendants. “The judge has shown decency with the fact that he bothered to add the glass box inside the courtroom, when he could have just continued the trail with all of them being absent,” the law professor notes. “And let’s not forget that the judge can sentence a defendant for one to three years in hard labor just for disturbing the peace in the courtroom.”
The ex-president has four court cases pending against him: the ongoing Ittihadeya Palace trial and the prison break trial, charges of espionage, and charges of insulting the judiciary.
In a reversal of his stance during the November trial, Morsi appointed former presidential candidate Selim Al Awa as his lawyer to relay his rejection of the proceedings. Morsi asserts he is still president and thus the courts have no jurisdiction over him. et