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Egypt swiftly tries Islamists in military courts

Authoritarian tactics extended to TV networks

CAIRO — The 2-month-old Egyptian government on Tuesday stepped up its use of swift military trials to lock up Islamist supporters of the ousted president, Mohammed Morsi, while an administrative court banned four satellite networks considered sympathetic to them, including an Egyptian affiliate of Al-Jazeera.

Although the government has promised a prompt return to inclusive democracy and the rule of law, the military trials and network closings extended its use of authoritarian tactics as it widens a crackdown on Morsi supporters and the Muslim Brotherhood.

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On Tuesday, a military court in Suez sentenced a man described as a Brotherhood member to life in prison for violence directed at the army. Forty-eight others were given sentences of five to 15 years in prison for similar charges, and 12 were acquitted, state news media reported.

All the charges concerned events on Aug. 14, the day that security forces stormed two pro-Morsi sit-ins and killed at least 800 people.

The convictions, after a two-week trial, were among the first handed down since the arrests of thousands of Brotherhood members after Morsi’s ouster. Scores if not hundreds of Brotherhood leaders, including Morsi, have been charged with inciting violence or murder.

Because military trials allow expedited convictions, they were a favorite tool of former president Hosni Mubarak, although he never jailed or killed as many Islamists in a two-month period as this new government has.

Mona Seif, a liberal political activist who worked with the defense lawyers on the cases, said she did not believe that all those detained were Brotherhood members. “The military and the police just round up whoever is around, and they get charged,” she said.

‘The military and the police just round up whoever is around, and they get charged.’

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She said that last week eight detainees from a pro-Morsi protest near Suez were sentenced to two years in prison after a one-week military trial. The families of the defendants have not spoken out, she said, for fear of drawing harsher penalties.

And the Egyptian news media, she said, now controlled almost entirely by supporters of the new government, have refused to cover the cases.

Three satellite networks ordered closed on Tuesday were linked to the Islamists, and the fourth was the channel known as Al-Jazeera Egypt Live. The Al-Jazeera networks, owned by Qatar, are more sympathetic to the Brotherhood than the rest of the media still allowed to broadcast, and Al-Jazeera Egypt Live has often covered the pro-Morsi protests when other channels ignored them.

The court found the Al-Jazeera network “a rebellious demon” and “a partner in an international conspiracy that aims at splitting the homeland,” the flagship state newspaper Al Ahram reported. The newspaper’s website said the network sought to turn the public against the military and the police, “to enable a popularly rejected group to control the lives of the Egyptian people.”

The court found that all four channels “broadcast lies after the people’s revolution against the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood,” the massive street protests that preceded Morsi’s ouster, the newspaper reported.

At least two Al-Jazeera journalists remain in prison. Three journalists for its English language affiliate were deported this week after days in detention.

On Sunday, an administrator was briefly detained after a police raid on the English network’s office.

The network has also said it found evidence that the government had been trying to jam its satellite signals from Egypt.

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