The recent move by the Egyptian government to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation is a politically driven decision “aimed at expanding the crackdown on peaceful Brotherhood activities,” according to a new report by international group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Released on Saturday, the report comes in the wake of the 25 December cabinet decision to tag the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists following the bombing of a police station in Mansoura that left 16 dead and more than 130 people injured. HRW urged an immediate reversal of the decision.
“The government blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for the blast without investigating or providing any evidence,” read the report. “The Brotherhood condemned the blast, calling for ‘perpetrators of this crime [to] be brought to justice.’ The Sinai-based Ansar Beit al-Maqdis released an online statement claiming responsibility for the attack.”
The administrative labelling is the centrepiece in the latest of a series of crackdowns against the Muslim Brotherhood. Recent actions against the group include the freezing of assets belonging to 1,055 Brotherhood-linked non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and over 130 group leaders; the closure of the newspaper belonging to the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing; a spate of arrests directed at supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi; and the government seizure of mosques, schools and hospitals belonging to “banned organisations,” including the Muslim Brotherhood.
“If the government says [the terrorist designation] is not [politically motivated], it should bring forward the evidence and have a due legal process, and have people stand in front of a tribunal,” said HRW Egyptian spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai. “Even labelling an organisation as terrorists doesn’t just de facto charge it with something.
“It is individuals who are responsible for acts, not whole groups. And these individuals should stand in front of a tribunal anyways.”
HRW Middle East and North Africa Director Sarah Leah Whitson added that the designation is another step in a five-month government attempt to “vilify” the Brotherhood.
“By rushing to point the finger at the Brotherhood without investigations or evidence, the government seems motivated solely by its desire to crush a major opposition movement,” said Whitson.
With the new terrorist designation, people participating in Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations could face up to five years in prison, while those leading demonstrations could face the death penalty.
“The government’s assault on the Brotherhood has gone beyond clamping down on peaceful political activities to curtailing desperately needed health services and schools for ordinary Egyptians,” Whitson said. “There seems to be no end to this wave of oppression.”