An Egyptian court sentenced deposed President Mohammed Morsi to 20 years in prison on Tuesday in the first verdict against the Islamist nearly two years after the army ousted him.
The Cairo court delivered its verdict on charges of inciting the killing of protesters in December 2012, when Morsi was still in office.
The sentence came amid fears Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president, could receive a death sentence as part of a crackdown against his Muslim Brotherhood movement by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisim who overthrew him on July 3, 2013.
The Brotherhood earlier on Tuesday called for protests in support of Morsi.
“The coup commander is exploiting the judiciary as a weapon in the battle against the popular will and the democratic and revolutionary legitimacy represented by President Mohamed Morsi,” it said in a statement.
Morsi could still face the death penalty in two other trials, including one in which he is accused of spying for foreign powers.
Verdicts in those two cases are due on May 16.
Judges have already handed down harsh sentences against other Islamist leaders.
Earlier this month, another court sentenced Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie to death.
Morsi was toppled after mass street protests against his year-long rule.
The new authorities then launched a sweeping crackdown on his supporters in which more than 1,400 people have been killed and thousands jailed.
Hundreds have been sentenced to death in speedy mass trials which the United Nations has called “unprecedented in recent history”.
The authorities have also targeted secular and liberal activists who spearheaded the 2011 uprising against longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Morsi’s predecessor.
In November, a court dropped murder charges against Mubarak in his own trial over the deaths of hundreds of protesters in 2011.
Tuesday’s verdict involves charges that Morsi and 14 other defendants, seven of whom are on the run, incited the killing of three protesters and the torture of several others during clashes outside the presidential palace on December 5, 2012.
The protesters were demonstrating against a Morsi decree that put him above judicial review when they clashed with his supporters.
Defence lawyers say there is no proof Morsi incited the clashes.
The verdict is open to appeal.
Political analyst Ashraf El-Sherif of the American University of Cairo said a tough sentence against Morsi would mark the “crowning” of the ongoing crackdown against the Brotherhood.
“The lawsuits against Morsi in particular make no sense, these are political trials,” he said.
Sisi has vowed to “eradicate” the Brotherhood, an 85-year-old movement that topped successive polls between Mubarak’s fall and Morsi’s presidential election victory in May 2012.
The authorities designated it a “terrorist group” in December 2013, making even verbal expressions of support punishable by stiff jail terms.
Jihadists have claimed a string of deadly attacks on the security forces in retaliation for the crackdown on the Brotherhood.
Officials say more than 500 police and soldiers have been killed in attacks since Morsi’s overthrow.
In a country where the army has been in power for decades, Sisi’s May 2014 presidential election win over little-known challengers crushed hopes raised by Mubarak’s ouster of a civilian democracy.
His regime is popular among the many Egyptians tired of more than four years of political turmoil, but human rights groups say it has proved more repressive than Mubarak’s.-Telegraph