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Egyptian Muslim Activists Convicted

November 19, 2000

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ An Egyptian military court convicted 15 members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that has become the biggest opposition faction in parliament, sentencing them to three to five years in prison.

Five other defendants were acquitted, according to the rulings handed down by the military court Sunday.

The Brotherhood, which aims to implement Islamic law in Egypt, won 17 parliament seats, more than any other opposition group, in elections that ended last week. The Brotherhood candidates ran as independents because the group is banned. President Hosni Mubarak’s ruling party still dominates the 444-seat body.

The 20 defendants were charged with being members of a banned group, harming national peace, trying to take control of trade unions and distributing pamphlets to spread their ideas.

Mohammed Badi Sami, Saad Zaghloul el-Ashmawi and Ahmed Ibrahim el-Halwani _ a veterinarian, doctor and teacher, respectively _ received five years imprisonment and 12 others got three years.

Mukhtar Nouh, a leading lawyer who defends Muslim fundamentalists, was among those who received three years. Nouh is also the treasurer of the Egyptian Lawyers’ Union, a member of the Brotherhood’s consultative council and a former member of Parliament.

``We knew from the start that this was a political case and we prepared ourselves accordingly. However, we didn’t expect the sentences to be this harsh,″ said defense attorney Mohamed Touson.

Maj. Gen. Ahmed el-Anwar, the presiding judge of the three-judge tribunal, said the Brotherhood works ``to impede (Egypt’s) progress and flourishing and to harm the country’s supreme interests.″

The 20 were arrested in October last year and the trial began in December. The military courts were set up to try terrorists but have also tried other members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Human rights organizations and opposition parties have repeatedly criticized the trials of government opponents in military courts, which operate under emergency laws imposed in 1981 by Mubarak’s government. The courts’ verdicts cannot be appealed, and only the president can pardon those found guilty.

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, was banned in 1954. It was tolerated by the government until 1995, when it was accused of supporting an armed Islamic insurgency that had begun three years earlier.

The group says it has renounced violence, yet hundreds of its members have been put on trial and scores imprisoned.

The Brotherhood, which had only one seat in the departing parliament, had long claimed election fraud kept it from showing its true influence in Egypt. During the recent balloting, there were charges that police turned away would-be voters expected to support Brotherhood members. The vote was also marred by violence and charges of vote buying and meddling with voter lists.

The government arrested more than 1,000 Brotherhood sympathizers shortly before the election. They have all been released since.

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