[JURIST] An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced 23 people, alleged to be members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], to three and a half years each in prison. The accused were imprisoned in connection with protests last November against the trial of former president Mohamed Morsi [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. They were found guilty of several charges [Reuters report], including attacking security forces and "thuggery." Among those sentenced was Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagy, who received one year in prison for insulting the judiciary. His was the first sentence handed to a leader of the organization since it was outlawed last year. Morsi is still standing trial in several cases and charged with crimes including conspiring with foreign militant groups against Egypt, which is punishable by death. The Muslim Brotherhood was Egypt's leading organized political party until last year. The government has accused it of turning to violence since Morsi was overthrown.
Egypt's military deposed then-president Morsi in July 2013, and throughout the past year the military-backed government has organized a massive political crackdown against the group. Judicial authorities have since delivered harsh sentences to hundreds of Morsi supporters and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is facing pressure outside of Egypt as well, as just last week the Brotherhood moved its headquarters [Daily Mail UK report] from London to Austria on the heels of a recently announced joint M15 and M16 inquiry into the group's activities initiated by UK Prime Minister David Cameron. In March Egyptian authorities sentenced [JURIST report] two Morsi supporters to death for murder. Also last month an Egyptian court sentenced 529 Morsi supporters to death [JURIST report] on charges of killing and attacking policemen in one of the largest mass trials held in the country in decades. Experts say the harshness of the rulings illustrates [AP report] the lengths to which Egyptian courts have been politicized and due process has been ignored during a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood was named a terrorist group by Egypt's interim government last December which followed a September judgment that banned [JURIST reports] the Brotherhood's activities and initiated confiscation of the group's assets.