Home / Transitional Justice Project / Court Case Spotlight
Government and Security Sector Accountability
Security-Related Charges and Designations

Prison Break Case

Court / Presiding Judge

First Review: Cairo Criminal Court/Judge Shaaban al-Shami
Second Review: Cairo Criminal Court/Judge Muhammad Fahmy

Procedural History

On May 16, 2015, the court referred the death sentences in the case to the Mufti. These death sentences were confirmed and the verdict as a whole was issued on June 16, 2015. On November 15, 2016, the court ordered a retrial for 26 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including former president Muhammad Morsi, who was still alive at the time. The retrial is still ongoing.


In the first review of this case, former president Muhammad Morsi, Supreme Guide Muhammad Badie, Deputy Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat, and former parliamentary speaker and Guidance Bureau members Muhammad al-Beltagy, Essam al-Erian, and Saad al-Husseiny were sentenced to death. Twenty-one defendants received life sentences. Ninety-three defendants were tried in absentia and received death sentences. Since then, 26 of the sentences (including that of Morsi) have been vacated and a retrial was ordered. The retrial is still ongoing.

Summary of Reasoning

This case dates back to the mass escape that occurred at Wadi al-Natroun Prison during the early days of the January 25 Revolution during which several Muslim Brotherhood leaders and other detainees escaped from prison. The defendants faced charges of storming prisons, assisting the escape of convicts, looting weapons, murder, and attempted murder of police officers. The prosecution relied on the testimony of 43 people, most of them Ministry of Interior officers. When reading out the final verdict in the case of first review, the judge stated, “The court panel has unanimously agreed that there is no room for leniency or mercy for the defendants."

Anecdotal Notes

In response to the initial verdict, Hamas issued a statement in which it criticized the verdicts and stated that some of the defendants who were sentenced in the case had actually been killed before the revolution or had been detained in prison in Israel for dozens of years, thus making their participation in the alleged crimes impossible. The European Union criticized the first trial as “flawed" and referred to the punishment as “cruel and inhumane." In December 2018 and during the retrial of the case, former president Hosni Mubarak was called to testify. In June 2019, Morsi collapsed and died during a court hearing in the Espionage Case; during his detention, he was reportedly kept in solitary confinement, was not allowed to receive vistors, and did not receive adequate medical care for serious health issues, including diabetes. Under Egyptian law, Morsi should not be tried posthumously, but the trial will continue for all other defendants.

Legal & Judicial Implications

During the investigatory period of the case, Morsi was kept incommunicado and reportedly not granted access to a lawyer, thus raising serious concerns surrounding due process. The initial heavy sentences against Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders also raises questions surrounding the discrepancy in accountability for crimes committed by Brotherhood leaders, as opposed to Mubarak and officials formerly serving in his government.