Former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi

Former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi
Supporters of the ousted Egyptian president describe his death as 'tantamount to state sponsored murder'

Egypt's only freely elected president, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in a 2013 military-backed coup d'etat, reportedly died on Monday during a court session, the nation's state television report.

The 67-year-old US-educated civil engineer and political leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was on trial facing espionage charges when he reportedly collapsed.

"The body has been transferred to a hospital and necessary procedures are underway," Nile News television said.

Tightly controlled state television reported Morsi's death by a heart attack without noting his tenure as president. According to the public prosecutor's office, Morsi collapsed in the cage used to house defendants in Egyptian courtrooms at around 4:50 pm local (2.30 pm GMT) and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital, according to news agencies, claiming there was no sign of injuries.

Morsi's death while in custody will likely anger Muslim Brotherhood supporters throughout the Middle East and have international repercussions. The organisation is the oldest Islamist political organisation in the world. Morsi and the Brotherhood count Turkey and Qatar as major allies. His supporters accused the Egyptian state of killing Morsi.

"The Egyptian regime knew that the continued denial of access to medical treatment would lead to his premature death," said a statement issued by Muslim Brotherhood leaders Amr Darrag and Yehia Hamed. "To that effect, the death of President Morsi is tantamount to state sponsored murder."

Their warnings were ignored by the international community, including their own government, and they have been tragically proved right.

Dr Paul Williams MP warned that inadequate care would lead to a rapid deterioration of his long-term medical conditions that would likely lead to a premature death.

"We now call for a full international independent investigation into the death of President Morsi, and for these results to be made public. The first democratically elected President has died through a concerted and active campaign by the Egyptian regime. This is a gross violation of international law. It must not be allowed to stand," the Muslim Brotherhood statement continued.

Reuters cited unnamed "security sources," as saying the Interior Ministry had "declared a state of alert" ahead of Morsi's burial, but there was no such official statement. Despite harsh repression and security measures against all political opponents, Muslim Brotherhood supporters abroad have claimed their networks inside Egypt persist, albeit underground.

Born in Egypt's Nile Delta, Morsi had been imprisoned during the reign of Hosni Mubarak, but escaped during Egypt's 2011 uprising, emerging as a leading opposition figure. Though lacking charisma and resented by reformists within the Brotherhood as a hardliner, he became standard-bearer for the Brotherhood's political aspirations after the more formidable Khairat al-Shater was disqualified from running.

He narrowly defeated a candidate supported by the military in 2012 elections, but then was felled and imprisoned in a 2013 popular uprising that led to a military takeover by Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt's current president.

He has been held inside the notorious Scorpion section of Cairo's maximum security Tora prison, along with other Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

Mr Sisi has since overseen an intense crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and anyone suspected of supporting the group.

A report last year by a UK-based inquiry concluded that Morsi's health was deteriorating in prison and that "failure to provide him with adequate medical treatment could lead to his premature death," describing the conditions he was being held in detention as potentially "torture."

Crispin Blunt, the UK member of parliament who chaired the inquiry by politicians and jurists, called for independent international investigation into the killing.

"He has died whilst in the custody of the Egyptian state, the same state apparatus that was forcibly taken control of by the Egyptian military," he said in a statement. "Dr Morsi's death in custody is representative of Egypt's inability to treat prisoners in accordance with both Egyptian and international law. The Egyptian government has a duty to explain his unfortunate death and there must be proper accountability for his treatment in custody."