CAIRO : The three judges presiding in the trial of Muslim Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie and his aides withdrew from the proceedings on Tuesday, citing “reasons of conscience”.
Their decision to step down comes just days before a Cairo court begins prosecuting ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on November 4 in a separate trial.
Badie and his two deputies, Khairat al-Shater and Rashad al-Bayoumi, face charges related to the deaths of protesters who stormed the Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters on June 30.
“The judges are retiring from this case for reasons of conscience and the accused must remain in detention,” head judge Mohammed Fahmy al-Qarmuty told the court at the start of the session, without elaborating.
It is expected that new judges will be appointed to hear the case.
Lawyer for the accused Mohamed Damaty insisted “there is no evidence at all in the case” and told AFP that the proceedings were “political”.
A total of 32 other defendants are being prosecuted along with Badie, Shater and Bayoumi. None of the 35 were in the court on Tuesday, when the second session of their trial began.
An official told AFP that the defendants were not brought to the court for security reasons.
Badie, Shater and Bayoumi face charges of inciting the murders of nine protesters on June 30. If found guilty, they face the death penalty.
Three other of the accused Islamists also face murder charges while 29 are charged with participating in violence.
“I just want to see Badie and Shater hanged. I will fight for my son’s rights,” said Setohy Abdel Rahman, father of a protester killed in June 30 clashes, after the judges announced their decision.
Millions of protesters on June 30 called for the ouster of Morsi, accusing him of working for the sole benefit of the Brotherhood, ruining an already dilapidated economy and monopolising power following the 2011 overthrow of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
His supporters deny such allegations and point to the Muslim Brotherhood’s victories in a series of polls held after Mubarak’s overthrow.
The army on July 3 ousted Morsi after mass protests against his one-year rule.
Tuesday’s developments in a downtown Cairo court come just days ahead of the start of Morsi’s trial.
Morsi is being tried with 14 others for “incitement to murder” in connection with deadly clashes between his supporters and opponents outside the presidential palace in December 2012.
On Monday the Anti-Coup Alliance supporting him said the Islamist had rejected the authority of the court that is due to try him.
“No lawyers will be defending president Mohamed Morsi, neither Egyptians nor foreigners, because the president does not recognise the trial or any action and processes that result from the coup,” the alliance, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, said in a statement.
The group said a team of Egyptian lawyers would be attending the trial with Morsi, but only “to observe proceedings, not to defend him.”
It said its statement was prompted by false reports in pro-military media outlets saying the Muslim Brotherhood had appointed lawyers from Turkey and Qatar to represent Morsi.
The alliance has called for mass protests on the day of the trial, raising fears of further violence in the deeply polarised country.
Security forces launched a massive crackdown on Morsi’s supporters in August, violently dispersing two protest camps in Cairo.
More than 1,000 people have been killed since Morsi’s ouster - mainly his supporters - and the authorities have arrested some 2,000 Islamists, including most of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership.
Morsi himself has been held incommunicado in military custody since his ouster.
His ouster has not deterred supporters from organising anti-military demonstrations which these days are largely being held in universities.
Their demonstrations have often deteriorated into deadly street fights pitting them against opponents and security forces.