Page last updated at 14:14 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Egyptian jailed for entering Gaza

The Rafah border crossing in Egypt.
Egypt keeps the Rafah border crossing largely closed

An Egyptian military court has jailed the leader of an outlawed Islamist party for two years for illegally entering the Gaza Strip.

Magdi Ahmed Hussein was also fined 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($900, 625).

Officials say Mr Hussein, secretary-general of the Egyptian Labour Party, entered Gaza through a smugglers' tunnel dug under the border.

A defence lawyer said the court had deprived his client of the right to defend himself properly.

Mr Hussein was arrested last month when he tried to return to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing.

Officials say the only identification he carried was a driving licence.

The Egyptian government co-operates with Israeli-led sanctions against the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas.

During the recent Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, Egypt refused to allow Islamist militants and rights groups to enter the Palestinian territory.

'Harsh verdict'

Hafez Abu Seada, the secretary-general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, told the Reuters news agency that he thought the verdict was harsh.

Human rights groups have criticised the Egyptian government for trying civilians before military courts under an emergency law enforced since 1981.

The courts are known for their tough and swift verdicts and have no right to appeal.

The tribunals have been used mostly against members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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

The non-violent Brotherhood is Egypt's most popular opposition group; it is banned by law, but activists participate in elections as independent candidates.

Egyptian authorities accuse the Muslim Brotherhood, which has close ties to Hamas, of seeking to topple the government.

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