Former President Mohamed Morsi collapsed and died on Monday while attending a court hearing in a retrial of a case in which he stood accused of espionage, according to state television. He was 67 years old.
In a statement issued shortly after news of his death began to circulate, the public prosecutor’s office provided details of Morsi’s final moments. Without referring to his former position as head of state, the statement said Morsi addressed the court for several minutes. After the hearing was adjourned, Morsi fell unconscious among other defendants in the defendants’ cage. He was immediately taken to a hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead on arrival, the statement added.
The statement did not provide details on the cause of death, but the prosecutor has convened an investigation that will be tasked with questioning the other defendants in the case, examining evidence from surveillance cameras inside the courtroom, examining Morsi’s medical file detailing his treatment in prison and ordering a forensics team to prepare a report on the cause of death.
In another statement several hours later, the public prosecutor’s office announced it had issued a burial permit after an autopsy was completed. Abdallah Morsi, the former president’s son, told Reuters that authorities have refused to allow Morsi to be buried in the family cemetery. According to Abdallah, the family does not know where Morsi’s body is being held and are only receiving information from their lawyers, as they are not directly in touch with Egyptian authorities.
According to Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud, one of Morsi’s defense lawyers who spoke to Mada Masr by phone, the former president petitioned judge Mohamed Sherine Fahmy to allow him to address the court. Fahmy granted Morsi’s request, and the former president spoke for six to seven minutes.
According to Abdel Maqsoud, after Morsi’s previous request was denied for a special court session to allow him to “reveal state secrets,” Morsi told the court that he would not disclose any state secrets that would harm national security, instead taking them to his grave.
Morsi then asked the court to allow him to meet with his lawyers, arguing that his court-appointed lawyer did not have the requisite information to properly defend him. Being barred from legal consultation, the former president likened himself to a blind man who knew nothing of what was going on in his trial or in the media, Abdel Maqsoud added.
Morsi also said the court had found him innocent on charges of spying on Qatar’s behalf and had only charged him with leading the Muslim Brotherhood, but “people don’t know,” Morsi reportedly said. He ended his address with a line from a poem: “My country, even if it fought me, is dear to me. My people, even if they resented me, are honorable.”
At the close of Morsi’s address, the judge adjourned the hearing until Tuesday and left the courtroom, Abdel Maqsoud told Mada Masr. Minutes later, a commotion broke out inside the defendants’ cage, as Morsi fell unconscious and collapsed. The judges reentered the courtroom to begin hearings in the case center on the 2011 Wadi al-Natrun prison break, in which Morsi also stood as a defendant. Upon seeing him unconscious, the judge ordered Morsi to be transferred to hospital.
Morsi, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was Egypt’s first democratically elected president. He assumed office in 2012 but was ousted a year later, on July 3, 2013, by the military – led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whom Morsi had appointed as his defense minister – amid mass protests against his rule.
Morsi has been held in solitary confinement and kept in his cell 23 hours a day since he was removed from office. He has been cut off from communication and only allowed four family visits in the past six years, all of which his son, Abdallah, was excluded from. Morsi’s family had filed a complaint with the State Council to allow them to visit him without restriction.
Last year, the Detention Report Panel, a newly-established group of British parliamentarians and senior lawyers, demanded to visit Morsi in prison in order to investigate his detention conditions and report on his health, which, according to his family, had been rapidly deteriorating. The panel received no response to their request.
The committee gathered evidence based on a number of available materials and issued a report in March 2018 that concluded: “Mohammed Morsi is receiving inadequate medical care, particularly inadequate management of his diabetes and inadequate management of his liver disease. We accept the opinion that the consequence of this inadequate care is likely to be rapid deterioration of his long-term conditions, which is likely to lead to premature death.”
The panel found the conditions of Morsi’s detention to be below international standards and constitute “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” that “could meet the threshold for torture in accordance Egyptian and International law.” Responsibility for Morsi’s condition, the pannel added, does not only fall on those directly implementing his detention conditions but on the whole “chain of command” such that “the current President could, in principle, be responsible for the crime of torture.”
Finally, the report cited an address Morsi gave in November 2017 court hearing, in which the former president spoke about his prison conditions and deteriorating health. According to the report, Morsi outlined several health problems: his low blood pressure was causing him to occasionally lose consciousness; his untreated diabetes had caused his vision in his left eye to deteriorate; sleeping on the floor of the prison had left him with back pain and body aches.
In December 2017, a representative from the public prosecutor’s office presented a report in court on Morsi’s health after conducting a medical check on the former president. According to the report, Morsi was suffering from issues in the tear duct of his left eye, his knees, spine, as well as dental problems. The representative’s report brought attention to the fact that Morsi is a diabetes and blood pressure patient, adding that the former president underwent a heart CT scan and electrocardiogram, in addition to having his knees x-rayed and his eyes examined.
The report added that Morsi’s heart rate was within the regular range, and that his blood sugar levels were high. According to the report, Morsi refused to have a blood sample taken to run a test on the effect his diabetes had had on his kidneys.
Morsi previously expressed concern about his health during a court hearing in July 2017, saying there had been “crimes committed against him” affecting his life. Morsi also stated that he had fallen into a coma on June 5 and 6, 2017.
Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, described Morsi’s death as “terrible but entirely predictable,” pointing to the government’s “failure to allow him adequate medical care, much less family visits.” Whitson added that her organization was in the process of issuing a report about Morsi’s prison conditions.
Amnesty International called for an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mosri’s death, as well as his detention conditions and his ability to access medical care.
“The news of Mohamed Morsi’s death in court today is deeply shocking and raises serious questions about his treatment in custody,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, the deputy director for Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa. “Mohamed Morsi was subjected to enforced disappearance for months after his detention, before first appearing in front of a judge on 4 November 2013. During this six-year period, he was effectively cut off from the outside world.”
Morsi was handed down final sentences in three cases and faced charges in at least two pending cases. At the time of his death, Morsi was serving a 20-year sentence in connection to the violent clashes that took place outside Ettehadiya Presidential Palace in December 2012, a life sentence in connection to alleged espionage with Qatar, and three years for insulting the judiciary. Morsi was also standing for retrial in cases that saw him accused of spying on behalf of Hamas and being involved in the 2011 Wadi al-Natrun prison break.