Egyptian court freezes assets of 29 Brotherhood members

An Egyptian court on Wednesday upheld a decision by the state prosecutor and ordered a freeze on the assets of 29 Muslim Brotherhood members known to be the financiers of the country’s most powerful opposition movement.The court order hits the Islamic group’s key financiers and is part of a government push to undermine the banned movement financially. Among the 29 was Khayrat Shater, the fundamentalist group’s third-highest ranking member, known to be the group’s chief strategist and a main financier.

Egyptian authorities signalled a crackdown on the group’s financial committee earlier this year, when the state prosecutor ordered the assets of the 29 Brotherhood members be frozen. For the freeze to take effect, Wednesday’s court order was necessary.

It followed a wave of arrests since a December protest by the Brotherhood in which 50 young members appeared in military-style black uniforms and balaclavas at Egypt’s Azhar university — prompting government claims the Brotherhood was taking up arms.

In all, a total of about 300 Brotherhood members are in custody. In early February, the government ordered 40 other Brotherhood members — including Shater — to be put on a separate trial before a military court on charges of money laundering and terrorism.

Also among the 29 — all of whom are in custody and whose assets were frozen Wednesday — were the Brotherhood’s executive, Mohammed Ali Bishr, and a millionaire businessman patron of the group, Hassan Malik. The 29 appeared in an area barred-off from the rest of the courtroom during the hearing Wednesday.

When the court pronounced its decision, they began shouting anti-government slogans. The hearings ended in a melee.

“Take our money and our companies but we will abide by our cause … Oh history witness this, they have stolen the Brotherhood’s money,” some of the accused chanted from behind bars.

“This is a dictatorial regime, this is an autocratic regime,” Shater shouted.

Outside the court, about 200 of the group’s supporters and families of the 29 staged a protest, carrying banners denouncing the court and calling it unfair.

AbdMoneim AbdMaksoud, a lawyer for the group, called the decision “illegal,” and said this is a “political issue that has no logical grounds.” “This is a message from the government, but it will not affect the Brotherhood’s peaceful discourse,” the lawyer said.

The Brotherhood is Egypt’s largest political opposition group. It won 88 of parliament’s 454 seats in 2005 elections, with its candidates running as independents. The group renounced violence in the 1970s.

Man charged with spying details claims of torture

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian-Canadian man accused of spying for Israel repeated his claims Wednesday that he was forced to confess while authorities tortured him by electrocution and other extreme measures.

Mohammad Attar, 30, is on trial in the State Security Emergency Court on charges he was spying for Israel and harming Egyptian national interests. He has pleaded not guilty.

Three Israelis, who were charged alongside Attar, remain at large and are being tried in absentia. If convicted, Attar and his co-defendants face a maximum life sentence, with hard labour.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the judge allowed Attar to remove his handcuffs and meet with his attorney, Ibrahim Desouqi, outside of the iron cage where defendants usually are placed during court sessions.

The two met alone outside of the courtroom for 15 minutes. When they returned, Desouqi urged the court to drop the confessions, saying they were extracted under torture.

Before his hearing Wednesday, Attar told reporters from inside the cage that the confessions he gave police “were all fabricated lies” and accused the security officers of torturing him.

He said an officer forced “me to sign a statement after electrocuting me and forced me to drink my urine. I was being tortured for four weeks in a solitary confinement.” According to the prosecutors, Attar confessed to spying for Israel and gave a detailed account of his role in collecting information about Egyptians, and Arabs living in Turkey and Canada in return for money. He also received instructions from the three Israelis, said to be intelligence officers, to recruit Christian Egyptian immigrants in Canada using money and sex.

The alleged confessions, that have been published earlier this month in the independent and government newspapers here, claimed that Attar fled Egypt in 2001 and sought asylum with the UN refugee agency offices in Turkey after he was sentenced to three years in prison for bank fraud.

The published confessions alleged that Attar met the Israelis who gave him money in return for cooperating with them and writing reports about Egyptians and Arabs living in Turkey, and converted to Christianity in Istanbul. Six months later, he was allegedly sent to Canada, where he delivered more reports about Christian Egyptians.

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