- Egypt's main opposition, the Islamic Brotherhood, is again in trouble with their country's security that launched a raid in the movement's main bases in Cairo and the Nile Delta last night, arresting and detaining 80 of its members. Human right and civil society groups today strongly protest the move.
The semi-legal opposition party's officials described move as nothing short of a pre-emptive action to smooth the polls for the ruling party ahead of the upper house of parliament polls in April.
The Egyptian security justified the move, saying they held the Brotherhood members for possessing anti-government literature as well as belonging to an illegal organisation.
Mohamed Habib, deputy leader of the Brotherhood, said the latest action was an attempt to weaken the movement in the political field.
Though outlawed as a political party, the group posed candidates on independent tickets in 2005 and won 88 of the 454 parliamentary seats. It also won a fifth of the seats in the lower house of parliament.
Those held in yesterday's police action include three members of parliament, doctors, engineers, teachers, among other professionals.
Security forces recently clamped down on the movement for supporting judges in their campaign for judicial independence and holding of clean elections.
Over the months, the Egyptian security forces have detained at least 792 members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Few days ago, Egypt arraigned 40 members of the Brotherhood, including its third highest ranking official, Kairat el-Shatir, in a military court on charges of money laundering and terrorism.
Egyptian security said they have been putting the movement members under scrutiny until last December when they discovered that the group was recruiting close to 180 students at the University of al-Azhar. Dressed in black uniforms, the students were found in military-style march before being rounded up with three professors.
However, a court in the capital Cairo on 29 January dismissed all charges against Mr al-Shatir and his co-defendants and ordered their immediate release. But the government ignored the court order.
The state prosecutor, Abd al-Magid Mahmud, asked the courts to freeze the assets of the accused persons for financing a banned organisation.
The police re-arrested Mr al-Shatir and 15 others moments after their acquittal. On 6 February, President Hosni Mubarak used his personal powers to transfer their cases and those of 24 other detainees of the same movement to a military tribunal.
"Re-arresting these men moments after their acquittal shows a complete contempt for the rule of law and shocking disrespect for the court," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director of the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW).
"This escalation in the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has worrying implications for anyone who peacefully campaigns for change," she argued, adding that by "trying to crush Egypt's largest opposition movement, the government has shown once again that it cannot tolerate any criticism."
It is reported that Egypt's military tribunals are in a haste to pass verdicts, which are neither reversed, nor can they be appealed.
HWR said it has "collected the names of 226 members of the banned, non-violent organisation, Egypt's largest opposition group, currently held by Egyptian authorities."
HRW asked Egypt to ensure that persons charged with criminal offences have the right to a fair trial, according to international obligations of the Cairo government. "Al-Shatir and the other Muslim Brotherhood members should never have been arrested in the first place," Ms Whitson said. "Now that an independent court has said as much, the government is resorting to a military tribunal to deliver the desired verdict."
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