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UN Calls for Independent Investigation into Death of Egypt's Morsi

A person holds a picture of the late former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi during a symbolic funeral ceremony, June 18, 2019 at Fatih mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

The U.N. human rights office is calling for a prompt, impartial, transparent investigation into the sudden death Monday of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi in a Cairo court, where he was on trial on espionage charges.

Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, collapsed after completing a statement in court. Spokesman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville said the exact cause of Morsi’s death is not wholly clear.

But international humanitarian law, he said, clearly states any sudden death in custody must be followed by a thorough, independent investigation to clarify the cause of death. At the same time, he told VOA the state, which was responsible for Morsi’s well-being, should not carry out an investigation.

“In the case of Mr. Morsi, we believe this investigation should be quite wide-ranging because he was denied access to adequate medical care during the six years he was in custody. He also did not have proper access to lawyers and his family, which he has a right to as a prisoner,” said the spokesman.

Colville said an investigation should encompass all those aspects to see if conditions of his detention had an impact on his death. Egyptian authorities say Morsi died of a heart attack.

He was buried on Tuesday, a day after he died. His family was allowed to be present at his funeral, but reportedly was not given access to an autopsy report. Colville said he is not entirely sure whether or not an autopsy was carried out.

“Certainly, the burial seems to have been very hasty. Of course, if there has not been an autopsy that would make a proper investigation into the cause of his death — whether there are any factors related to his treatment when he was being detained very hard to ascertain. So, that would be hugely problematic if there was not an autopsy,” said Colville.

Morsi, who was ousted by a military coup one year after taking office, reportedly suffered from diabetes and had problems with his liver and kidneys. Colville said it is the state’s responsibility to ensure that he and other prisoners in custody be treated humanely.

He said it seems Morsi may have been deprived of the health care he needed for his serious ailments. He says that could have been a factor in his death and is something that needs to be investigated.