An Egyptian court has sentenced the ousted president Mohamed Morsi to death for his part in a mass jailbreak in 2011.

The verdict, by Judge Shaaban el-Shami, was announced on Saturday in a Cairo court where Morsi was also facing charges of espionage. As is customary in passing capital punishment, the death sentence on Morsi and more than 100 others will be referred to the country’s top Muslim theologian, or mufti, for his non-binding opinion.

Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, was ousted by the military in July 2013 after days of mass street protests by Egyptians demanding that he be removed because of his divisive policies.

His overthrow triggered a government crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood movement in which hundreds of people have died and thousands have been imprisoned.

In May 2014, Morsi’s successor, the former military chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, secured a landslide victory in Egypt’s presidential elections.

Before Saturday’s sentencing, Morsi was already serving a 20-year term on charges linked to the killing of protesters outside a Cairo presidential palace in December 2012.

Defendants in both trials were brought into the caged dock on Saturday ahead of the verdict. “We are free revolutionaries, we will continue the march,” they chanted.

Morsi was not brought in, but his co-defendant and Brotherhood leader, Mahmud Badie, was present, wearing the red uniform of those convicted to death after a previous sentence.

In Saturday’s first case, Morsi and 130 others, including dozens of members of the Palestinian Hamas movement and Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah group, were accused of escaping from prisons and attacking police during the 2011 uprising against the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been blamed for most of the unrest in Egypt, which has resulted in the death of some 850 people. Egyptian authorities designated it a terrorist group in December 2013, making even verbal expressions of support punishable by imprisonment.

In Saturday’s second case, Morsi and 35 co-defendants, including Brotherhood leaders, were accused of conspiring with foreign powers, Hamas and Shia Iran to destabilise Egypt.

Prosecutors said the defendants carried out espionage activity on behalf of the international Muslim Brotherhood organisation and Hamas from 2005 to August 2013 “with the aim of perpetrating terror attacks in the country in order to spread chaos and topple the state”.

Morsi’s supporters have said that the charges against him are politically motivated. Rights groups have accused Sisi’s regime of using the judiciary as a tool to oppress opposition, with Amnesty International denouncing the death sentence as “a charade based on null and void procedures”.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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