An Egyptian military court on Tuesday jailed 25 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood for up to 10 years for financing a banned organization and acquitted 15 others, a court official said.
The Brotherhood's number three Khayrat al-Shater and fellow leader Hassan Malek were jailed for seven years while five others were sentenced in absentia to 10 years in what rights groups called "a subversion of justice."
The eighteen others were jailed for between three and five years, including another two in absentia, following a repeatedly delayed verdict.
Those convicted have the right to appeal within 60 days. Defence lawyer Abdel Monem Abdel Maqsud told AFP his team would decide within a week on whether to appeal but doubted their chance of success.
In the past, verdicts delivered by military courts could not be appealed, but the law was changed last year.
Egyptian authorities accuse the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls a fifth of the seats in parliament, of seeking to revive its underground military wing and of eventually trying to topple the regime.
"This is an unjust and extremely strange judgment. These are political verdicts ... which reflect the regime's extreme violence towards the Muslim Brotherhood," the group's number two Mohammed Habib told AFP.
Thirty-four people were arrested when scuffles erupted outside the court at Haikstep, northeast of Cairo, ahead of the verdict as relatives tried to force their way into the building where the proceedings were held in camera.
The verdict was postponed shortly before the April 8 municipal elections. Hundreds of Brothers were rounded up in the run-up to the vote in what the Islamists said was a reflection of the regime's fear of their rise to power.
The fact that the case was tried in a military court has fed accusations that the politically charged trial is part of a broader policy of silencing the powerful group.
"The sentences handed down against 25 members of the Muslim Brotherhood today are a subversion of justice in Egypt," Amnesty spokeswoman Nicole Choueiry told AFP from London.
"This trial has been clearly politically motivated from the outset."
"Today's sentences leave no doubt that the Egyptian authorities are bent on continuing their relentless campaign to undermine at all levels the main opposition group in the country."
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's representatives must sit in parliament as independents because of its illegal status.
The latest crackdown has especially targeted the organization's funding, freezing its assets and arresting prominent businessmen associated with the movement.
Human rights groups have voiced opposition to the use of military courts to try civilians. They have also criticized the exclusion of independent observers from the courtroom.
The accused were referred to the military court by presidential decree after a number of them were cleared on the same charges by a civilian criminal court.
Over the past 10 years, President Hosni Mubarak's government has repeatedly relied on military tribunals, which have a more consistent rate of conviction, to try members of Islamist organizations.
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.