CAIRO: A military trial of 40 senior members of Egypt s most powerful opposition group who are charged with terrorism and money laundering resumed Sunday, the group s attorney and a court official said.
The trial is part of an ongoing government crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members holds almost 20 percent of the seats in the country s parliament and poses the most significant challenge to President Hosni Mubarak s regime.
Human rights groups in Egypt and abroad have repeatedly condemned Egypt s policy of trying civilians before military courts, which usually issue swift and harsh verdicts with no possibility of appeal – except for asking the president for clemency.
Over 100 Arab and Western lawyers arrived at the military base north of Cairo where Sunday s session took place to represent the defendants, but only a few were allowed into the courtroom, said Abdel Moneim Abdel Maksoud, a member of the group s defense team. Defense attorneys boycotted the trial s first session on April 26, arguing they hadn t been notified of the start date.
Abdel Maksoud said nearly a thousand others were also left standing out in the sun, including Brotherhood members, reporters, representatives of human rights organizations, and some of the defendants family members.
Elijah Zarwan, a Cairo-based researcher for Human Rights Watch who tried to attend the session, told The Associated Press, The government s refusal to allow human rights groups and the media into the trial undermines their assurances that civilians can get a fair trial before military courts. A court official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said Judge General Abdel Fattah Abdallah opened Sunday s session by reading the charges, all of which the defendants denied.
During the proceedings, Khayrat El-Shater, the Brotherhood s third-ranking member, stood behind bars with the other defendants. Civilian courts have twice ordered the release of several of the defendants, including El-Shater, who is known as the group s chief strategist and financier. But Mubarak has ignored their rulings.
Abdel Maksoud twice argued with the judge during the session over their continued detention, saying there was no order or rule to renew their imprisonment. If the court was implementing the law, they should have been released by now, but it is a political case, he added. After the defense s arguments, the trial was adjourned until July 15.
Egypt s Emergency Law, in place without interruption since 1981, authorizes the president to refer civilians to military trials. The Brotherhood has undergone several military trials, but this trial is the largest in years.
The Brotherhood has been banned since 1954 but has continued to operate and is Egypt s most powerful opposition movement. Its lawmakers, who run as independents, hold 88 seats in the 454 seat parliament.
The group advocates implementation of Islamic law but says it wants democratic reforms in Egypt, where Mubarak has had a quarter century of authoritarian rule. The government accuses the group of seeking to take over the country.
The Brotherhood announced on its web site Sunday that 19 of its members had been arrested, raising to 70 the total number of members and supporters arrested since Thursday.
Police, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, confirmed the arrests.
More than 400 Brotherhood members have been arrested in a crackdown since December, after Brotherhood students carried out a military-like parade. That prompted government accusations that the movement was forming an armed wing, providing students with combat training, knives and chains.