Egyptian authorities have released a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood after he had a heart attack but will keep 15 of his colleagues behind bars pending charges, a security source said Thursday.
Mahmoud Hussein, a member of the banned opposition group's key Orientation Council, was freed so he could have open-heart surgery after he went into cardiac arrest in detention, the source said.
Hussein was arrested along with the others, including spokesman Essam al-Aryan, in a raid on a meeting at a house in Cairo on August 17. The others will be detained for at least another 14 days pending charges.
Hundreds of members of the Islamist group have been arrested in recent months in an ongoing crackdown.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which describes itself as a moderate organization that wants to bring Islamic law to Egypt, has been outlawed since 1954.
The group holds more than a fifth of the seats in parliament, but its representatives sit as independents because of its illegal status.
The latest crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which began last December, has especially targeted the organization’s funding, freezing its assets and arresting prominent businessmen associated with the movement.
Rights groups have voiced opposition to the use of military courts to try civilians, who in this case include the Brotherhood's number three, Khayrat al-Shater, as well as criticizing the barring of independent observers from the courtroom.
Over the past 10 years, the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has repeatedly relied on military tribunals, which have a more consistent rate of conviction, to try members of Islamist organizations.
The verdicts of military courts have no right of appeal. Journalists and diplomatic observers were allowed access to military trials in the 1990s, but in recent years they have been open only to lawyers and immediate family members of the accused.
Last month, another Egyptian court turned down a request from the country's leading opposition prisoner Ayman Nour to free him on health grounds.
Nour, a key Mubarak rival, has petitioned to be freed on medical grounds due to complications from diabetes, heart and eye problems. A diabetic dependent on insulin, he also underwent cardiovascular surgery while in prison.