Cairo: Egypt's military-backed government put the deposed President Mohamed Mursi in a specially designed glass cell as he appeared in a court in Cairo on Tuesday, only his second public appearance since his ouster last July.
The soundproof cage, previously unheard-of in Egyptian courts, demonstrated the extraordinary measures that the new government is using to silence Mr Mursi, who stole the spotlight by disrupting the first session of his trial in November. Appearing then in a dark business suit instead of the usual white prison jumpsuit, he seized the moment to insist noisily that he was the fairly elected president and the victim of an illegal coup.
Egyptian state television cancelled plans to broadcast the session shortly before it began. It displayed only short clips of Mr Mursi in the cage, this time wearing the customary white jumpsuit, and another glass cage holding about 20 fellow defendants, apparently separated to prevent communication between them. No other news organisation was allowed to report from inside the court during the hearing.
Cone of silence ... toppled President Mohamed Mursi stands inside a glass-encased metal cage for the start of a new trial Tuesday over charges from prison breaks during the country's 2011 revolution. Photo: AP
When a microphone was briefly switched on in Mr Mursi's cage so that he could acknowledge his presence, he declared, according to a journalist who was present: "I have been absent from the world since the fourth of July and haven't met anybody from my family or my defence. I'm the legitimate President of Egypt."
The presiding judge shot back: "I am the president of Egypt's criminal court!"
The microphone in the cage was quickly turned off.
Supporters of Egypt's army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sissi (pictured in portraits), wear Egyptian flags and hold military boots on their heads as a sign of support for military rule. Photo: Reuters
Mr Mursi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was chosen as Egypt's first elected president in June 2012, was removed from office a year later in a military takeover after widespread street protests. The new government installed by Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi described Mr Mursi's removal as a second revolution, following the 2011 revolt that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
The military held Mr Mursi and his top advisers incommunicado when they removed him from office, and the new government began a widening crackdown on his Islamist supporters. Security forces are believed to have killed more than a thousand people at protests against the takeover. The government has jailed thousands more, including all of the Brotherhood's top leaders, and it has shut down virtually all the Egyptian news media sympathetic to the group.
In the months following Mr Mursi's ouster, prosecutors have filed a series of criminal charges against him and against other senior figures in the Brotherhood and his government. The defendants are accused of conspiring with foreign militant movements to break into prisons during the 2011 uprising, where Mr Mursi and other Islamist leaders had been held in extralegal detention for their political views.
In late December, the government formally declared the Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamist movement, to be a terrorist group, seized its assets and made membership in the group a crime.
The battle against Mr Mursi's supporters and other voices of the opposition is still leading to bloodshed. On Saturday, the third anniversary of the 2011 revolt, at least 62 people died in clashes with the police at protests against the military takeover, according to health officials.
Egypt has also faced an escalating series of attacks on security forces since Mr Mursi's ouster and the subsequent crackdown. Most have concentrated in the Sinai region but a growing number are taking place in the capital. The Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for many of them.
On Tuesday, two gunmen on a motorcycle assassinated General Mohamed Said, a senior Interior Ministry official, near his home in an area of Giza across the Nile River from Cairo, state media reported.
In response, Prime Minister Hazam al-Bablawi said the killing would only "fuel the authorities' determination to fight terrorism," according to state media.
In September, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis claimed responsibility for a car bomb that exploded near the motorcade of the interior minister, Mohammed Ibrahim, in a failed attempt to assassinate him. In November, gunmen shot down Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Mabrouk, of the Interior Ministry division monitoring Islamist groups, in the Nasr City neighbourhood of greater Cairo.
Last weekend, on the eve of the anniversary of the uprising, four bombs exploded near police positions around Cairo, killing at least six people.
New York Times