Egypt indicts 71 students accused of joining Brotherhood

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Egyptians protest Mubarak's acquittal verdict in the Zeitoun district of Cairo, Egypt on December 1, 2014. Anadolu / Ahmed al-Hussini

Published Monday, December 8, 2014

Egypt's prosecutor general Monday referred to trial 71 students of al-Azhar University on charges of joining the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and holding illegal protests, a judicial official said.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday criticized Egypt for having Interpol issue an arrest warrant for a Muslim scholar.

Hundreds of students have been tried in civilian courts after violence on campuses, bastions of pro-Islamist activists since the army's overthrow of president Mohammed Mursi in July 2013 after mass protests demanded an end to the one-year Islamist rule.

The students from al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam, indicted on Monday were arrested in separate clashes with security forces since the October start of the new academic year, the official said.

They are being charged with taking part in unauthorized protests, rioting, assaulting security forces and joining the Muslim Brotherhood, which Cairo has branded a "terrorist group," the official added.

The authorities enforced new regulations to limit student protests on campuses calling for Mursi's reinstatement, many of which degenerate into clashes with security forces.

In November, five university students were referred to military trial for allegedly torching a university building during a pro-Morsi protest.

At least 14 students were killed on campuses in the last academic year in clashes with security forces, while one student has been killed since October.

Moreover, several leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, including Mursi, are themselves on trial in cases which carry the death penalty if convicted.

Following the ouster of Mursi, authorities banned association to the Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement, and launched a heavy cracked down on its members, leaving at least 1,400 dead and 15,000 jailed, including hundreds sentenced to death for allegedly taking part in deadly riots in August 2013.

Egypt was brought in November in front of the UN’s top human rights body for a litany of rights abuses, including its crackdown, mass arrests and unfair trials targeting mainly Mursi supporters, journalists and activists, described as “unprecedented in recent history.”

Besides Islamists, many of the leading secular activists behind the 2011 uprising which ousted former President Hosni Mubarak have also found themselves on the wrong side of the new political leadership, getting locked up for taking part in peaceful demonstrations following a recent ban on unlicensed protests.

The Protest Law (107 of 2013) “allows the security forces to use firearms against peaceful protestors.”

Last week, a Cairo court sentenced 188 supporters of Mursi to death Tuesday over the killing of 13 policemen in a village on the outskirts of Cairo on August 14, 2013.

"Mass death sentences are fast losing Egypt's judiciary whatever reputation for independence it once had," Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement.

Amnesty International also lashed out at the mass sentencing.
"It is quite telling that the sentencing... was handed down in the same week that the case against former president Hosni Mubarak was dropped," said Hassiba Hadj Sahrouai, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"This is blatantly a case of justice being meted out based on a political whim,” she added.

Last week, a court dismissed charges against Mubarak for ordering security forces to kill protesters during the 2011 uprising.

That verdict, and others handed down to Mubarak-era figures, has led some to conclude that the old regime that existed before either revolution is back in all but name.

Erdogan slams arrest warrant against Qaradawi

Meanwhile, Erdogan on Monday criticized Egypt for having Interpol issue an arrest warrant for a Muslim scholar.

Islamist scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whose fiery sermons caused tensions across the Arab world, is a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and head of the Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars.

In November, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) listed the International Union for Muslim Scholars as a terrorist organization along with over 80 other Islamist organizations.

He regularly launches tirades against Egypt's authorities since the army ousted Mursi.

Egypt approached Interpol seeking Qaradawi's arrest and in November Interpol put him on its wanted list.

"Look, a person who came to power through a coup is giving instructions to Interpol," Erdogan told a religious council in Ankara.

"What kind of a business is this? Science cannot be at the disposal of politics. Politics is the servant of science," he added.

"Things have turned upside down. All of these developments show the world is unfortunately going not for the good but for the bad," Erdogan warned.

Qaradawi, 88, is an Egyptian-Qatari national and a prominent Sunni cleric based in Doha.

He is named as a defendant in several trials along with many Muslim Brotherhood members, including one which has Mursi as a co-defendant.

Turkey is one of the staunchest supporters of the brotherhood, with Erdogan calling Mursi's removal from power a "coup."

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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