[JURIST] Egyptian police arrested 72 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood [party website; FAS backgrounder] on Thursday morning, according to security officials. The government accuses the organization of trying to create an Islamic theocracy, but the Brotherhood claims the crackdown is meant to quell opposition to constitutional amendments [JURIST report] proposed by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [official profile; JURIST news archive] last year. Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] Middle East Director Sarah Leah Whitson on Thursday called [press release] for the release of over 200 members of the group who are currently being detained. Whitson said:
This escalation in the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has worrying implications for anyone who peacefully campaigns for change … By trying to crush Egypt's largest opposition movement, the government has shown once again that it cannot tolerate any criticism.
Among those arrested Thursday was Khairat al-Shatir, deputy supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, who had been originally arrested [BBC report] in December. Last month, a judge ordered that al-Shatir and his co-defendants be released, after dismissing all charges against them.
In December, officials announced that they would release from prison two Muslim Brotherhood leaders, Essam el-Erian and Mohamed Mursi, who were jailed last May for their involvement in pro-judicial independence protests [JURIST report]. Both had been previously arrested in 2005 for protesting a constitutional referendum [JURIST report] aimed at implementing multi-party elections they felt impermissibly favored Mubarak. AFP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.