Written by Challiss McDonough
By Challiss McDonough
15 April 2008
McDonough report - Listen (MP3)
An Egyptian military court has sentenced 25 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood to prison for up to 10 years. The men convicted include the group's third-in-command and many of its top financiers. VOA's Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.
The military court on the outskirts of Cairo convicted 25 senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood and acquitted another 15 after a trial that lasted well over a year.
Those convicted included the group's third-in-command, Khairat El-Shater, and prominent businessman Hassan Malek. Both were sentenced to seven years in prison.
Other sentences ranged from three to 10 years. Several of the men were convicted in absentia, including Swiss-based businessman Youssef Nada.
It was not immediately clear on which charges they were convicted.
Brotherhood officials said they were still waiting for a copy of the verdict, which appeared to have been issued while most of the defense lawyers were absent from the courtroom.
The charges against them initially included money laundering and terrorism, but in December prosecutors dropped those charges while continuing to press lesser charges, including financing a banned organization.
The Brotherhood criticized the verdict. The group's deputy leader, Muhammad Habib, called the trial unjust, unfair and politically motivated.
Khairat El-Shater's daughter, Zahra El-Shater, said her father was sentenced in a closed-door session that was "not legal." "We feel pain not only because we are going to lose him for all these years, but because what happened in this case was not justice at all," he said.
Human rights groups have condemned the use of military courts to try civilians, as well as the systematic exclusion of independent observers from the courtroom.
Amnesty International spokeswoman Nicole Choueiry said Egypt's military courts are not independent and fail to meet international standards.
"This is clearly a politically motivated trial and it has been from the outset, since the decision was made by the president of the country himself for these people to be tried before a military court. Now what we saw today leaves no doubt that the Egyptian authorities are keen on continuing their relentless campaign to undermine the main opposition group in the country," she said.
When the men were arrested in 2006, there was no right to appeal a verdict from a military court. Analysts say a law passed last year has made an appeal possible if filed within 60 days. But Choueiry said the appeals court can only examine procedural issues, not issues of substance.
Police threw a tight security cordon around the military courthouse and erected roadblocks on streets leading to the area, keeping relatives, supporters and journalists far away.
Television footage showed scuffles breaking out as police tried to disperse the detainees' relatives and supporters. At least 20 arrests were reported, but it was not clear how long people were being held.
Zahra el-Shater said she and other family members were chased away from the court. "The police officers beat us in the street, and chased us in a very bad way. Why? We want only to enter, and to see what's happening inside," she said
The convictions are seen as dealing an especially heavy blow to the Muslim Brotherhood's financing, since those convicted include some of the group's top fundraisers and wealthiest members. El-Shater had been seen as a likely successor to the group's top leader. The Brotherhood's Web site says the court ordered the closure or confiscation of several of the defendants' businesses.
The verdict was delayed twice in the run-up to a municipal election that the Brotherhood ended up boycotting after most of its candidates were disqualified and more than 800 of its members arrested.
The group, which seeks an Islamic state through non-violent and democratic means, usually runs candidates for office as independents. It currently holds one-fifth of the seats in parliament, making it the largest opposition bloc.
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