CAIRO, (Reuters) – Egyptian authorities barred human rights groups, the media and around 60 defence lawyers from the closed military trial of Muslim Brotherhood officials on Sunday, the opposition group said.
A Brotherhood source said observers from Amnesty International and the Arab Commission for Human Rights, based in France, were stopped from attending. Some defence lawyers were allowed in court and four family members for each defendant.
The Brotherhood is Egypt’s biggest opposition force. It seeks an Islamic state through democratic elections and operates openly despite having been banned since 1954. A security source said 14 more members had been detained on Saturday.
The 40 members facing trial, six of them in absentia, include the Brotherhood’s third-in-command Khairat el-Shatir. They are being tried on charges that include money laundering and terrorism. They deny any wrongdoing.
A Brotherhood source present during the trial said the prosecution submitted books, compact discs and computers as evidence, and that most of the defendants denied all knowledge of the items. The trial will resume on Aug. 19.
Egyptian authorities have barred local and international human rights groups from observing previous sessions. Amnesty said on Friday it had written to President Hosni Mubarak urging him to allow independent observers.
Military trials in Egypt are usually held behind closed doors and attendance requires a permit from the court.
Many analysts see the trial as an escalation of a government crackdown against the non-violent group which won a fifth of the seats in parliament in 2005. They say authorities want to stop the Brotherhood from making more electoral gains that could help it mount a serious threat to the rule of Mubarak, Egypt’s longest-serving ruler since the Albanian-born Mohamed Ali Pasha in the 19th century.
The 14 Brotherhood members detained in a raid on Saturday night included Hamed el-Sayed, a former parliamentary candidate. They are being held on suspicion of belonging to an illegal organisation and possessing Brotherhood literature, the security source said.