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A military tribunal’s conviction of 25 leading members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood demonstrates the Egyptian government’s continued determination to crush any organized political opposition, Human Rights Watch said today.

On April 15, 2008 a military tribunal at the Haikstip military base on the outskirts of Cairo sentenced Muslim Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shatir and 24 other civilians, seven of them in absentia, to prison terms of up to 10 years. The tribunal acquitted 15 others. The court also ordered the seizure of millions of dollars in assets belonging to the convicted men and their businesses.

“The military tribunal’s conviction of 25 Muslim Brotherhood members is a transparently political verdict from a court that should have no authority to try civilians,” said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Under changes to Egypt’s Military Justice Code made in April 2007 those convicted may appeal the ruling within 60 days, but only on procedural grounds.

The trial of the 25 defendants began in June 2007. They faced a variety of charges including money laundering, financing and belonging to a banned organization, possessing anti-government literature, and arming Brotherhood-affiliated students. The court sessions were closed to the public, although some family members were allowed to attend at least one session.

At the verdict and sentencing hearing on April 15, defense lawyers as well as the public were excluded. The judge entered the courtroom, read the verdict, and left again before the defense lawyers were allowed in, leaving it unclear who had been convicted of what, according to defense team head `Abd al-Moniem al-Maqsud.

A regular civilian criminal court in Cairo had acquitted 17 of the defendants of all charges in January 2007, but police re-arrested them moments after the verdict. In February 2007, President Hosni Mubarak transferred their cases, along with 23 others, to the military tribunal.

The military and police used heavy-handed methods against families of the defendants who sought to attend today’s hearing. Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that police refused to allow family members to enter the military base and beat them to prevent them from standing on the road outside the base. They then bused them to different locations kilometers away from the base. When family members gathered at a mosque for safety, police surrounded the mosque to prevent them from leaving.

“Once an ordinary court ruled that these men hadn’t committed any crimes, President Mubarak had to turn to a military tribunal to get the verdict he wanted,” Stork said.

The military tribunal raised a number of important due-process concerns. Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1982, affirms that everyone has the right to be tried by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law. The Human Rights Committee – the body authorized to monitor compliance with the covenant – has stated that the trial of civilians by military courts should be very exceptional and occur only under conditions that genuinely afford full due process. No one should be tried for an offense for which they have already been acquitted. And trials conducted in absentia deny defendants an adequate opportunity to present a defense.

The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), to which Egypt is a state party, further holds, in article 26, “that state parties ... shall have the duty to guarantee the independence of the courts.” The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the body created to monitor the implementation of the ACHPR, elaborated on these rights in its principles and guidelines on the right to a fair trial. “The only purpose of military courts shall be to determine offenses of a purely military nature committed by military personnel,” the commission wrote. “Military courts should not, in any circumstances whatsoever, have jurisdiction over civilians.”

According to the Muslim Brotherhood’s website, the military court sentenced the following men to prison:

1. Khairat al-Shatir, 7 years
2. Hasan Malik, 7 years
3. Yusef Nada, 10 years (in absentia)
4. `Ali Himmat Ghalib, 10 years (in absentia)
5. Ibrahim Faruq al-Zayyat, 10 years (in absentia)
6. Fathi Ahmad al-Khuli, 10 years (in absentia)
7. Tawfiq al-Wa`i, 10 years (in absentia)
8. As`ad Al-Shikha, 5 years (in absentia)
9. Ahmad Shusha, 5 years
10. Sadiq al-Sharqawi, 5 years
11. Ahmad Ashraf, 5 years
12. Ahmad Muhammad `Abd al-`Ati, 5 years (in absentia)
13. Muhammad `Ali Bishr, 3 years
14. Sayid M`ruf, 3 years
15. Mamduh al-Hussaini, 3 years
16. Farid Galbat, 3 years
17. Diya’ al-Din Farahat, 3 years
18. Salah al-Desuqi, 3 years
19. Fathi Muhammad Bughdadi, 3 years
20. Ayman `Abd al-Ghani, 3 years
21. `Issam `Abd al-Muhsin, 3 years
22. Muhammad Abu Zid, 3 years
23. Mustafa Salim, 3 years
24. `Issam Hashish, 3 years
25. Midhat al-Haddad, 3 years

According the Muslim Brotherhood’s website, the court acquitted the following men:

1. Khalid `Oda
2. Sa`id Sa`d `Ali
3. Muhammad Mihana Hasan
4. Muhammad Hafiz
5. Muhammad Baligh
6. Mahmud al-Mursi
7. Ahmad `Ezz al-Din
8. Gamal Sha`ban
9. Yassir `Abdu
10. Mahmud `Adb al-Latif `Abd al-Jawad
11. Osama Sharbi
12. Amir Bassam
13. `Abd al-Rahman Sa`udi
14. Ahmad al-Nahhas
15. Al-Hagg Hasan Zalat

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