An Egyptian state security court handed down 15-year sentences to former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Muslim Brotherhood acting leader Mahmoud Ezzat and 16 prominent leaders of the banned organisation.
Court officials said they had been found guilty of spreading false news and leading or being a part of an illegal political entity.
Fifteen others, members or affiliates of the Brotherhood, were given life sentences while two of the accused received 10-year sentences.
Prosecutors accused Ezzat and Aboul Fotouh of leading a terrorist organisation and working with the express intent of toppling the government.
Ezzat has been a prolific member of the Brotherhood for decades while Aboul Fotouh is the former head of the Strong Egypt party and its 2012 presidential candidate.
The accused were also accused of instigating hostile operations against members of the country’s security establishment, judiciary and armed forces to accomplish the Brotherhood’s political aims.
Aboul Fotouh, 71, was further charged with spreading false information during a highly controversial interview in 2018 with Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera, in which he was highly critical of the current government for alleged restrictions on freedom of speech in Egypt.
“The current administration has succeeded in creating a republic of fear in Egypt,” Aboul Fotouh told Al Jazeera.
He was arrested in the same year when he returned from the UK, where the interview took place.
Aboul Fotouh, a former physician known for his liberal approach to Islamism, had been a long-time member of the Brotherhood until he distanced himself from it in 2012.
This was when he ran for president, eventually losing to the Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi.
“Investigations proved that Aboul Fotouh played an active role in a group established in violation of the law for the purpose of hindering the constitution and preventing state organisations from carrying out their work, in addition to stifling violating personal liberties,” prosecutors said.
As for Ezzat, who was arrested in 2020 for colluding with foreign entities to destabilise Egypt, Sunday’s ruling is the second conviction he has received since his incarceration.
After successfully evading the 2013 arrests, which apprehended the majority of the Brotherhood’s leadership at the time, Ezzat continued to be elusive until his arrest in 2020.
A death sentence he received in absentia in 2015 was commuted to life in prison last year.
Despite an appeal by his lawyers, his life sentence was upheld by a terrorism court in December, which cited his deep involvement with Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah as the main reason for its ruling.