The trial of 40 members of Egyptian opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood on charges of money-laundering and financing a banned organisation resumed at a military tribunal on amid calls to allow observers into the court. The hearing on a military base took place behind closed doors despite protests by rights groups barred from attending the politically charged trial. Amnesty International secretary general Irene Khan on Saturday voiced the group’s opposition to the use of military courts to try civilians, who in this case include the Brotherhood’s number three, Khayrat al-Shater.
The accused were referred to the military court, where they could face the death penalty, by presidential decree after being cleared on the same charges by a civil criminal court. Amnesty said military courts “cannot be seen as independent and impartial tribunals for civilians. The Brotherhood’s supreme guide Mohammed Mehdi Akef, who has himself spent 23 years behind bars, said the current trial for “economic crimes” and the freezing of the assets of the accused “will have negative repercussions on investment and development. International observers, including former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, have already been barred from attending previous hearings of the trial of Muslim Brotherhood members, whose organisation is legally banned. Over the past 10 years, Mubarak’s government has repeatedly relied on military tribunals, which have a more consistent rate of conviction, to try members of Islamist organisations.
The verdicts of military courts have no right of appeal. Journalists and diplomatic observers were allowed access to military trials in the 1990s, but in recent years they have been open only to lawyers and immediate family members of the accused. The latest crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which began last December, has especially targeted the organisation’s funding, freezing its assets and arresting prominent businessmen associated with the movement. Over the summer, security forces have focused on arresting Brotherhood members attending summer camps which the authorities say are aimed at destabilising the state. Fourteen Brothers were arrested in the latest raid on what the authorities called an Islamist “training camp” in Cairo.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which wants to bring Islamic law to Egypt, has been outlawed since 1954. The group has more than a fifth of the seats in Egypt’s parliament, but its representatives sit as independents because of its illegal status.