The judges presiding over the trial of leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood stepped down from the proceedings on Tuesday, citing “uneasiness” over the trial, as the defence lawyers said the panel had come under pressure to hold the trial inside a prison.
The move forces the trial of 35 Brotherhood figures, including the group’s top leader Mohammed Badie, to start all over, though Tuesday’s was only its second session. The case is the first in what is likely to be a series of trials of Brotherhood members, including ousted President Mohamed Morsy, whose trial on charges of inciting the killing of protesters begins on Nov. 4.
Judge Mohammed el-Qarmouti from the three-judge panel at the Cairo Criminal Court announced the decision to step down just before the second session in the trial was to convene, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Mustafa Attiya, Badie’s lawyer, said the judges decided to leave because they came under pressure by security officials to move the trial to inside Tora prison, where defendants are held.
“The judges refused, but the pressure continued,” he said. “This is not a trial, this is a farce.”
The court official could not immediately be reached to comment on Attiya’s account.
Since the trial began in August, it has been held in the Criminal Court’s chamber. But Badie and the other defendants did not appear, apparently for security reasons, for fear their presence would spark protests by supporters outside. Holding the trial in a prison would presumably enable tighter security.
The defendants include six senior leaders, including Badie and his deputy Khairat el-Shater, the group’s powerful financier. Four other Brotherhood figures are on trial in the case on charges of incitement, stemming from June 30 clashes that left nine dead when Brotherhood members opened fire on protesters storming their Cairo headquarters.
The other 29 are low-level Brotherhood members.
The trial is part of an extensive crackdown on Mr. Morsy’s group and its supporters since the military removed Egypt’s first freely elected President from office on July 3 following widespread protests against him.
Since then, Mr. Morsy has been held incommunicado and he is due to stand first trial next month on charges of inciting murder and violence that led to killings of protesters in front of the Presidential palace in December.
Mr. Morsy is also being investigated in other cases, including one accusing him of conspiring with foreign groups to break out of prison during the 2011 uprising that ousted his predecessor Hosni Mubarak.
Authorities allege that Morsy supporters have committed acts of terrorism since the coup, pointing to a string of attacks against churches and government buildings. The Brotherhood and MorsY supporters deny their protests are violent and deny that they attack churches, accusing authorities of smearing their movement.