Military trial of Brotherhood members a ’farce,’ group leader says

Military trial of Brotherhood members a ’farce,’ group leader says

A prominent Muslim Brotherhood leader standing trial in a military court here on Monday decried the proceedings against him and 39 other senior members of the banned opposition group as an “ongoing farce.”

Khayrat el-Shater, third top chief of Egypt”s largest and oldest Islamic group, was arrested along with 39 other prominent members of the movement last December. The trial against the 40 opened in April but the hearings are banned to media. Only few and close relatives are allowed to attend the proceedings at Haykstep military base on Cairo”s outskirts.

“The continuation of our imprisonment indicates the authoritarian nature of the regime and its political bankruptcy,” el-Shater, 57, wearing a prison white jumpsuit, told reporters as he was brought under tight security to testify in a different case at a downtown court.

“The military trial is an ongoing farce,” he said, in a rare chance for public comment from the detained members.

In early February, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered the 40 Brotherhood members, 33 of whom are in custody, be put on trial before a military court on charges of money laundering and terrorism.

El-Shater denied the group has anything to do with money laundering, and claimed the charges against them were “framed and have no basis of truth.”

He also denied he had anything to do with a publishing house accused of mistranslating the Quran, Islam”s holy book, which is related to the case he was testifying about Monday at the Dar el-Galaa court.

The Brotherhood trial has drawn much criticism in Egypt, where it has become the largest proceedings against an opposition group in recent years and is part of an ongoing crackdown on the opposition movement.

An Administrative Court earlier this year decided in a rare ruling that Mubarak”s order to try the Brotherhood”s members before a military court was illegal, but the state appealed that decision and within days the trial resumed.

Two other civilian courts twice ordered the release of el-Shater and a number of his co-defendants, but Egypt”s emergency state prosecutor dismissed this and renewed their detentions.

El-Shater is known as the fundamentalist group”s chief strategist and financier. He was arrested a year ago on suspicion of money laundering and terrorism. Afterward, the government froze the assets of 29 Brotherhood members and several companies linked to the group.

Human rights groups in Egypt and abroad have repeatedly condemned Egypt”s policy of trial of civilians before military courts, which usually issue swift and harsh verdicts with no possibility of appeal except for a presidential pardon.

The Brotherhood, which was officially banned in 1954, is Egypt”s largest opposition group although its lawmakers, who run as independents, hold just over a fifth of the seats in the 454-member lower house of the parliament.

Hundreds of Brotherhood members have been arrested.