Egypt trial of Muslim Brotherhood members begins

Forty top members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood [party website; FAS backgrounder] went before a secret military court in Egypt [JURIST news archive] Thursday on charges of terrorism and money laundering. Defense lawyers announced that they would boycott the proceedings because they were not notified of the trial beforehand and only learned of it from their clients. The defendants — 33 of whom are in custody, with seven others being tried in absentia – refused to respond in court without their lawyers present. A civilian court ordered the release of a number of defendants, including Brotherhood deputy supreme guide Khairat al-Shatir [BBC report], in January, several days before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [official profile; JURIST news archive] ordered the Brotherhood members tried before the military court. A civilian court issued a second order for their release on Tuesday. AP has more.

The Brotherhood has been banned since 1954, but has grown into Egypt’s most powerful opposition movement, holding 88 seats in the 454-seat parliament. Egyptian police arrested 31 Brotherhood members in June and an additional 72 members [JURIST reports] in February. Over 700 Brotherhood members are believed to be in police custody. The government accuses the organization of trying to create an Islamic theocracy, but the Brotherhood claims the crackdown was meant to quell opposition to constitutional amendments [JURIST report] proposed by Mubarak last year. The amendments passed [JURIST report] by referendum in March.