Deposed Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi was back in court Saturday as his trial over the killing of protesters resumed, with the defence insisting he is still the legitimate president.
His trial is seen as a test for Egypt’s military-installed authorities, who have come under fire for a heavy-handed crackdown on his Islamist supporters after he was forced out by the army last July.
An Islamist coalition backing Morsi called for nationwide protests on Saturday to “support the legitimate elected president,” but there were no reports of any demonstrations.
At Saturday’s hearing Morsi, dressed in a white prison uniform, was held in a glass cage separate from co-defendants, an AFP correspondent reported from the court.
Of the 14 co-defendants, seven were present, while the rest are being tried in absentia.
Some of the co-defendants turned their backs on the proceedings and gave a four-fingered “Rabaa” salute, after welcoming Morsi when he entered his cage.
The gesture refers to a massive pro-Morsi protest in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square that was violently dispersed in August, setting off clashes in which hundreds of people, mostly Islamists, were killed.
The third hearing of the trial — in which Morsi and his co-defendants are accused of inciting the killing of protesters in December 2012 outside the presidential palace — was being held at a heavily guarded police academy in Cairo.
“This court has no jurisdiction to look into the case because Morsi is still the president and no official decision was taken for his ouster,” said lawyer Salim al-Awa, a member of the defence team.
The judge declined a request by Morsi to speak at the proceedings.
Prosecutors showed video footage at Saturday’s hearing of what they said were “supporters of defendants” chanting pro-Morsi slogans, carrying sticks and dismantling protest tents outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
The footage also showed at least one alleged Muslim Brotherhood member firing a gun.
At that time, members of the Muslim Brotherhood to which Morsi belongs attacked opposition protesters camped outside the palace in protest at a decree by Morsi to grant himself extra-judicial powers.
At least seven people were killed in the clashes, and dozens of opposition protesters were detained and beaten by Morsi’s supporters.
The incident was a turning point in Morsi’s presidency, galvanising a disparate opposition that eventually organised the mass protests in June 2013 that led to his downfall.
Morsi’s defence says there is no proof he incited the clashes, and that most of those killed in the violence were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which moved in to protect the presidential palace after police withdrew.
The trial was adjourned to Tuesday.
The first hearing in trial of Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide Mohamed Badie and more than 50 others for inciting deadly violence in the Nile Delta city of Qaliub, shortly after Morsi’s ouster, was also briefly convened and adjourned to Monday.
‘President of republic’ faces four trials
Morsi is facing four separate trials, and at the first hearing of another trial on January 28 he defiantly insisted he was still the “president of the republic.”
In that trial, Morsi and 130 co-defendants face charges of breaking out of prison during the 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule.
Morsi also faces trials on charges of espionage in collaboration with the Palestinian Hamas movement, and insulting the judiciary. The espionage trial will start on February 16, while no date has yet been set for the other trial.
Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood won a series of polls after Mubarak’s ouster and who became Egypt’s first freely elected leader in June 2012, was ousted a year later by the army after massive protests against him.
Amnesty International says that since Morsi’s overthrow on July 3 at least 1,400 people have been killed in clashes with security forces and his opponents.
Months of bloodshed has dimmed hopes for reconciliation in the Arab world’s most populous nation as it prepares for a presidential vote to be held by mid-April.
Egypt’s army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose popularity has skyrocketed since he ousted Morsi, is expected to seek the presidency.
The Muslim Brotherhood was designated a terrorist organisation late last year, with any public show of support punishable by lengthy jail terms.