CAIRO -- The trial of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi opened Monday but swiftly went into recess because Morsi, confined in a defendant’s cage, refused to wear a prison-issued jumpsuit as ordered by the judge, Egyptian state television reported.
The former leader was flown from a secret location on Monday to a heavily fortified Cairo court complex, marking the start of his trial on charges of incitement to commit murder. Chants erupted inside the closed courtroom upon Morsi’s arrival, and the judge threatened to halt the proceedings if order was not restored, the private CBC channel reported.
The court session was not televised, and access to the courtroom was strictly controlled. Even some defense lawyers were barred from entering.
Outside the police academy complex containing the courtroom, a swelling crowd of protesters waved banners with the yellow, four-fingered emblem of opposition to Egyptian authorities’ crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. “Down with military rule!” they shouted.
The capital was on high alert Monday, with a heavy deployment of security forces in streets and squares. Rolls of barbed wire and rows of police guarded the court venue on Cairo’s eastern outskirts, which was also the site of the trial of Hosni Mubarak, the longtime autocrat who was forced out in a massive popular uprising in 2011.
Morsi, along with 14 other senior figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, faces charges stemming from deadly clashes outside the presidential palace last December, midway through his year in office. Supporters of the ousted president say he does not recognize the authority of the court.
Morsi’s supporters demand his reinstatement, something the military-backed government says will never happen, regardless of the trial’s outcome.
In the four months since Morsi was removed from office by the army, Egyptian authorities have taken harsh measures against the Muslim Brotherhood. The group has been formally banned, and thousands of its supporters are in jail. About 1,000 of them were killed in mid-August when police and soldiers broke up protest camps set up by supporters of the ex-leader.
Until his arrival at the court, Morsi had been held since the July 3 coup against him at an undisclosed location, with almost no contact with the outside world.
Over the weekend, an Egyptian newspaper posted what it said were video images of him in detention, but the video could not be independently verified or dated. It showed him appearing healthy and talking in an animated manner.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry, in a visit to Egypt on Sunday, called on Egyptian authorities to follow fair judicial practices. Human rights groups have said Muslim Brotherhood detainees, including Morsi, have been systematically denied due process, but Egyptian officials insist that he will have a fair trial.