UN calls for ‘independent’ probe into death of Mursi

Agence France-Presse . Geneva | Published: 19:52, Jun 18,2019 | Updated: 22:14, Jun 18,2019


Women gather for a symbolic funeral prayer for the former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi near the Egyptian Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, on Tuesday. — Reuters photo

The UN human rights office called Tuesday for an ‘independent inquiry’ into former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi’s death while in state custody.

‘Any sudden death in custody must be followed by a prompt, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation carried out by an independent body to clarify the cause of death,’ said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2012 after the Arab Spring uprisings, was overthrown in 2013 after a brief, turbulent term in power.

He died Monday after collapsing during a trial hearing in a Cairo court.

‘Concerns have been raised regarding the conditions of Mursi’s detention, including access to adequate medical care, as well as sufficient access to his lawyers and family, during his nearly six years in custody,’ Colville said. 

He noted that Mursi ‘also appears to have been held in prolonged solitary confinement,’ and said the investigation must ‘encompass all aspects of the authorities’ treatment of Mursi to examine whether the conditions of his detention had an impact on his death.’

Mursi was buried Tuesday, as calls mounted for an independent investigation into the causes of his death after he collapsed in a Cairo courtroom.

Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud said family members had washed Mursi’s body and prayed the last rites early Tuesday morning at the Leeman Tora Hospital.

That lies near the prison where Egypt’s first civilian president, a prominent Muslim Brotherhood member, had been held for six years in solitary confinement and deteriorating health.

The prosecutor general’s office said the 67-year-old leader had collapsed and ‘died as he attended a hearing’ Monday over alleged collaboration with foreign powers and militant groups.

Abdel Maksoud said that only around 10 family members and close Mursi confidants were present at the funeral, including himself.

An AFP reporter saw a handful of mourners entering the cemetery complex, accompanied by police officers, but journalists were prevented from entering the site.

The graveyard is in the same suburb as the largest massacre in Egypt’s modern history, the August 2013 crackdown on Islamist sit-ins at two Cairo squares, weeks after Mursi’s ouster by the military.

Over 800 people were killed in a single day as security forces moved against protesters demanding Mursi’s reinstatement.

The attorney general’s office said Mursi, who appeared ‘animated’, had addressed the court Monday for five minutes before falling to the ground inside the defendants’ glass cage.

Another of Mursi’s lawyers, Osama El Helw, said other defendants had started banging on the glass, ‘screaming loudly that Mursi had died’.

The attorney general said Mursi had been ‘transported immediately to the hospital’, where medics pronounced him dead — a version confirmed by a judicial source.

Since Mursi’s overthrow on July 3, 2013, his former defence minister, now president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has waged an on-going crackdown that has seen thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters jailed and hundreds facing death sentences.

Rights groups have demanded an independent probe into Mursi’s detention conditions and death.

The Brotherhood’s political wing — the Freedom and Justice Party — accused Egyptian authorities of ‘deliberately killing him slowly’ in solitary confinement.

‘They withheld medication and gave him disgusting food,’ it said in a statement. ‘They did not grant him the most basic human rights.’

The Egyptian government has not officially commented on his death.

His death barely rated a mention in local press, which referred to him by his full name but not his position as former president.

Mursi last saw his family in September 2018. A month later, one of his sons, Abdallah, was arrested.

Abdel Maksoud was the last member of his defence team to see him, in November 2017.

Rights group Amnesty International urged Egyptian authorities to open ‘an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation’ into his death.

Human Rights Watch echoed that demand, saying Mursi had suffered years of ‘insufficient access to medical care’ and calling on the UN Human Rights Council to investigate ‘ongoing gross violations of human rights in Egypt’.

A group of British parliamentarians in March 2018 warned that his detention conditions, particularly inadequate treatment for his diabetes and liver disease, could trigger his ‘premature death’.

‘Sadly, we have been proved right,’ said Crispin Blunt, the MP who chaired the committee, in a statement Tuesday.

‘The only step now is a reputable independent international investigation.’

Other Brotherhood leaders have also died in custody.

Allies such as Qatar, widely seen as backing the Muslim Brotherhood, paid tribute to Mursi.

In Turkey, thousands joined in prayers for the former president in Istanbul’s Fatih mosque on Tuesday. Ankara was one of Mursi’s key supporters.

But in his homeland, Mursi has a chequered legacy.

He spent a turbulent year in office before being toppled by the military following millions-strong protests demanding his resignation.

He has been in prison since his ouster, facing trial on charges including for spying for Iran, Qatar and militant groups such as Hamas.

Mursi was also accused of plotting terrorist acts.

He was sentenced to death in May 2015 for his role in jailbreaks during the uprising that ousted his predecessor, longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Mursi appealed and was being retried.

Mursi’s turbulent rule was marked by widening schisms in Egyptian society, a crippling economic crisis and often-deadly opposition protests.

His death comes days before Egypt hosts the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament, starting Friday.

Authorities have been on high alert, announcing on Facebook Monday that thousands of forces would be deployed to secure venues.

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