Wednesday, February 11, 2009

REUTERS - Egypt military court sentences Islamist to 2 years

ISMAILIA, Egypt, Feb 11 (Reuters) - An Islamist opposition activist was sentenced to two years in jail on Wednesday by an Egyptian military court for crossing illegally into the Gaza Strip, judicial sources said.

The sources, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said the court also fined Magdy Ahmed Hussein 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($900).

International and local human rights groups criticise the government for trying civilians before military courts under an emergency law enforced since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

The tribunals have been used mostly against members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's strongest opposition group.

Egyptian security services detained Hussein last month when he crossed into Egypt from the Gaza Strip, saying they believed he had entered Gaza illegally via a cross-border tunnel, security officials said at the time.

The officials said Hussein, the head of the Islamist-oriented Labour party, was carrying no papers other than a driving licence when he tried to return to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing.

The government suspended the activities of Hussein's party in 2000, partly due to its links with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Hafez Abu Seada, the secretary-general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, said the verdict was harsh.

"I was amazed that he was tried before a military court in the first place," he told Reuters. He said his group was ready to appeal the verdict if Hussein requested its legal help.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak decided in 2007 to set up an appeals court for suspects tried before military tribunals which are known for their tough and swift verdicts.

The Egyptian government has been cracking down on pro-Gaza protests, fearing they may increase the popularity of the Brotherhood, which has historical and ideological ties with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since routing its rival Fatah's forces in 2007. (Reporting by Yusri Mohamed and Alaa Shahine, writing by Alaa Shahine)

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