Cairo: Former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was on Saturday handed down life imprisonment by a Cairo criminal court on charges of espionage. The sentencing of Morsi came during the final ruling in the trial of 11 people, including two Al Jazeera journalists, on leaking state secrets to Qatar. Morsi was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Cairo court. The court also confirmed a ruling from May 7, when six of the defendants were sentenced to death. After that initial verdict, the court had to seek the advice of Egypt's Grand Mufti Shawqi Allam, the highest religious leader in the country, to be able to finalise the verdicts. Egyptian law requires the mufti to sign off on death sentences. His opinion is not binding but usually respected by courts. Those sentenced to death include Ibrahim Helal, former director of news at Al Jazeera's Arabic channel. He is not in Egypt and was tried in absentia. The others sentenced to death - political activist Ahmed Afifi, flight attendant Mohamed Kilani, and academic Ahmed Ismail - were in state custody. The verdicts can be appealed in Egypt's Court of Cassation. Steven Ellis, the director of advocacy and communications at International Press Institute told Al Jazeera that he was "disappointed" with the verdict but not entirely surprised "given the climate towards press freedom in Egypt". "We are extremely disappointed to hear this verdict and hope that Interpol and foreign governments, in the event that a warrant for extradition is issued, do not honour those warrants because this was a sham case that was politically motivated. There was extremely thin if any evidence tying these journalists to the alleged crimes that happened." Proscribed Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-backed Morsi was overthrown by the military in July 2013 after mass protests a year after he took office. Senior leaders in the MB and their followers have been sentenced to death in different cases since military leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overthrew Morsi's government. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has since been banned, has dismissed the sentences and other harsh verdicts as politically motivated. The Egyptian government has repeatedly said that the country's courts operate independently.