CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities switched the venue for the trial of the former Islamist president on Sunday, a last-minute change made after the Muslim Brotherhood called for mass demonstrations at the original location.
The trial of Mohammed Morsi, now to be held east of the capital on Monday, could lead to another round of bloodshed as his supporters look likely to face an emboldened security apparatus that has boosted its forces for the hearing.
Speaking at a news conference, appeals court judge Medhat Idris gave no reason for the change of venue, adding that the hearing would not be televised live.
Morsi has been held in undisclosed location and received only rare visits and telephone calls since his July 3 ouster in a popularly backed military coup. The trial will be his first public appearance since then, possibly enflaming the already tense political atmosphere.
He stands charged of inciting violence and murder during clashes last year at the presidential palace.
The heavily-fortified police academy in an eastern Cairo suburb where the trial is to be held has already been transformed into a courthouse for the trial of another former president, Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled in a 2011 uprising.
The room erupted in chaos immediately after Idris' announcement, with Morsi supporters chanting "down with military rule," leading the exasperated judge to throw his statement into the air and storm out of the room.
The trial of Morsi, who emerged from the Brotherhood to win the nation's highest political office, is the latest chapter in the interim authorities' crackdown on the group.
Morsi's family will not attend a trial it considers illegitimate, his son Osama told The Associated Press. Brotherhood political party member Shimaa Awad said they feared they would be mistreated and humiliated.
The remarks come as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo pressing for reforms during the highest-level American visit to Egypt since Morsi's ouster. The coup and the ensuing crackdown on his protesting supporters led the U.S. to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
In recent statements, a coalition led by Morsi's Brotherhood described the trial as a "farce" and reiterated that it regarded him as the "elected, legitimate president" of Egypt. "This is a naive tool to break our will and our determination," it said Sunday.
Chances of a new confrontation between security forces and Morsi supporters on the trial day are high. A Brotherhood-led group has called for mass rallies, while the interior minister has ordered the deployment of large number of security forces to guard the trial venue.
It is unclear whether Morsi will return to his current, unknown place of detention or join fellow Brotherhood leaders who are detained in Torah prison, which is adjacent to the initial trial venue.
International rights groups urged interim authorities to both investigate previous killings and to ensure a fair trial.
In a Sunday statement, London-based Amnesty International said Morsi's trial is a "test" for the Egyptian authorities, who must grant him the "right to challenge the evidence against him in court," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Middle East director. "Failing to do so would further call into question the motives behind his trial."
The group called for either releasing Morsi or transferring him from his secret place of detention to a known facility.
Morsi is being tried along with 14 other Brotherhood members and allies including top leaders Mohammed el-Beltagy and Essam el-Erian as well as three of Morsi's top aides, Ahmed Abdel-Atti, Assad Shaikha, and Ayman Houdhoud. Two young Islamist activists — Ahmed el-Mougheer and Abdel-Rahman Ezz — as well as ultraconservative Salafi Gamal Saber and hard-line preacher Abdullah Badr are also among the defendants.
The incident goes back to Dec. 5 when thousands of Egyptians led by democracy advocates amassed in front of the presidential palace, demanding Morsi to cancel an autocratic constitutional declaration which temporarily put him above the courts.
When policemen appeared reluctant to disperse the crowd, supporters of the president attacked protesters, sparking clashes that left 10 dead. Prosecutors say Morsi and the Brotherhood were behind the attacks, which saw many badly beaten and some even tortured inside the presidential palace.
Thousands of the Brotherhood's members, supporters and allies have been detained since Morsi's overthrow in July. Many have been referred to court in relation to protests and clashes that erupted before and after the army forced the Islamist Morsi from power.
Egypt witnessed one of its bloodiest days in decades on Aug. 14 when security forces violently cleared pro-Morsi protest camps, a move that sparked days of unrest as well as attacks on churches and police. An alliance of groups led by the Brotherhood continues to hold demonstrations that frequently result in violence.
Sarah el Deeb contributed to this report from Cairo