Egypt Fast-tracks Muslim Brothers Trial

Egypt put 33 leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest opposition group, on trial at a military court on charges of funding terrorism, in the first such trial under the newly-endorsed controversial constitutional amendments.

Egypt Fast-tracks Muslim Brothers Trial
On a few-hour notice to their lawyers, Egypt put 33 leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest opposition group, on trial Thursday, April 26, at a military court on charges of funding terrorism, in the first such trial under the newly-endorsed controversial constitutional amendments.

"The government's decision to fast-track the trial was meant to deprive the defense team from the chance to prepare their case," Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud, a member of the defense team, told IslamOnline.net.

"This smells of malicious intentions."

The trial of the 33 defendants, including Khayrat al-Shater, the group's deputy leader, began under heavy secrecy.

The move was totally unexpected since nearly half of the defendants had yet to appear before a military prosecutor, and the decision was made on Wednesday's official state holiday.

The defense team boycotted the procedural hearing to protest the government's action.

Only representatives of stat-run media were allowed in the courtroom while independent journalists and media members were barred.

Relatives of the defendants were initially banned from the closed-door session before eventually being allowed in after their mobile phones were confiscated.

After its opening, the court decided to adjourn the trial adjourned until June 3.

The defendants were arrested last December on charges of money laundering, terrorism funding and being members of an outlawed group.

A Cairo Criminal Court on Tuesday, April 24, turned down the government's appeal against an earlier ruling to release Shater and 15 other defendants over lack of evidence.

Bankrupt

The Muslim Brotherhood, which controls a fifth of the seats in parliament and is by far the country's biggest opposition force, slammed the hasty trial.

"These practices show that the regime has gone bankrupt," Mohamed Habib, the Brotherhood first deputy leader, said in a statement on the group's website.

"We reject these authoritarian practices against an Egyptian political group," he added.

Habib insisted that the regime, red-faced after civilian courts ordered the immediate release of the defendants, resorted to military tribunals.

Elijah Zarwan of Human Rights Watch agreed.

"Khayrat al-Shater and the other Muslim Brotherhood detainees should never have been arrested in the first place," Zarwan told Agence France-Presse (AFP) Thursday.

"Now that an independent court has said as much, the government is resorting to a secret military tribunal to deliver the desired verdict."

The regime started using military courts to try members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups in the 1990s when they were not being convicted by the civilian courts.

The infamous Emergency Law, in place without interruption since 1981, authorizes the president to refer civilians to military trials.

Last month, the parliament endorsed controversial constitutional amendments allowing the president to refer civilians to military court — a provision aimed at maintaining the power even after the emergency law is lifted.

Human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Egypt's policy of trying civilians before military court, which usually issue swift and harsh verdicts.

Shater, the number three man in the Brotherhood, and other businessmen linked to the group had their assets frozen.

The arrest is seen as part of a fast-paced government crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood which, although officially banned, is Egypt's largest opposition bloc.
Last Mod: 27 Nisan 2007, 09:48
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