Pankhurst, Nawaz, and Nisbet (BBC)
Egypt, which has an authoritarian government still to some degree rooted in Gamel Abdel Nasser’s Arab nationalism, has convicted 26 men of trying to revive the outlawed Hizb-ut-Tahrir group, which states openly that it wants to restore the caliphate and sharia — ostensibly through peaceful means, although that is hardly comforting to all those who would suffer as dhimmis under their rule. From AP:
Shouts of “God is great!” rang out in a court Thursday after judges sentenced 26 men, including three Britons, to prison terms of one to five years for trying to revive an outlawed Islamic group.
One of the Britons, Ian Malcolm Nisbett, accused the Egyptian government of oppression and said he hoped God would reward the defendants after death. Nisbett and fellow Britons Maajid Nawaz and Reza Pankhurst received five years’ imprisonment each, as did nine Egyptian defendants.
The defendants trooped into the court in white robes, escorted by police officers. Many held up copies of the sacred Islamic book, the Qur’an.
The chairman of the three-judge panel read out the verdicts and sentences and left the court. The text of the judge’s findings is expected to appear within a month.
“This demonstrates the weakness of Egypt, which can’t even tolerate peaceful dissent,” Nawaz, 26, told reporters afterward. “I stand here as a prisoner of conscience and my beliefs are stronger than ever.”
His mother, Abida Nawaz, called the verdict an “injustice against not only Islam, but humanity.”
Zara Pankhurst, the mother of Reza, said the proceedings were “a goofy trial with a goofy judge.”
“They are not going to beat us. We are strong,” she told The Associated Press.
Nisbett’s British wife, Humera, who does not understand Arabic, started weeping when her husband in the caged dock held up five fingers to indicate his sentence.
The defendants do not have the right of appeal as they were tried in an Emergency State Security court. They may only ask President Hosni Mubarak for clemency.
“I would rather die than appeal to the president,” Reza Pankhurst, 28, said.
The rights group Amnesty International condemned the convictions and accused the authorities of failing to investigate the defendants’ allegations of torture.
“We believe that they have been convicted solely for their peacefully held views and consider them prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately,” said Amnesty spokeswoman Lesley Warner in London.
“Most worryingly of all, reports that the men were tortured during the initial period of detention have never been properly investigated,” she added.
During the trial, the court said that medical examinations of the Britons found no evidence of torture, but the defendants told reporters they were only examined several weeks after they were tortured.
The defendants were arrested in April 2002 and charged with attempting to revive an Islamic group called Hizb ut-Tahrir or the Liberation party, which the government banned in 1974.
The chief defendants in the trial, which began in October 2002, were also charged with possession of propaganda leaflets of the Liberation party.
Defence lawyers argued in court that the defendants had only studied the ideology of the Liberation party and had not recruited to revive the group.
“This case shouldn’t have been transferred to the judiciary in the first place,” lawyer Montasser el-Zayat told the Associated Press on Thursday. “It doesn’t have violence, weapons or overthrowing the regime. It’s a case against peaceful thought.”
El-Zayat said that he thought the British defendants would be used as bargaining chip with the London government. Egypt has long asked Britain to extradite Egyptian dissidents whom it regards as militants.
“It’s not anti-British case, but anti-Islam case,” said Nisbett, 29, who has adopted the Arabic first name Yehiya.
“Thank God for everything,” Nisbett added. “We hope God is going to award us in the afterlife. We tried to change oppression in Egypt. Now, they are admitting that they are oppressors.”
One of the Egyptian accused, Medahat Hamdi, 36, an engineer, told reporters from the dock: “It’s very strange that we are being tried in Egypt for our beliefs, which don’t call for violence, but prohibit it.”
Seven defendants were sentenced to three years. Another seven received one year in prison. One defendant was convicted in absentia.
The Britons and Egyptians who received five years’ imprisonment have 22 months left to serve, according to their time in detention and Egypt’s sentencing procedures.
The Liberation party was founded in Jordan in 1953. It has long operated underground. Its current leader, Ata Abu-Rushta, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, was elected in 2003 and lives in Lebanon.