Amman – A court ruling on Sunday that sentenced Muslim Brotherhood leader Zaki Bani Irshid to 18 months in prison for criticising the United Arab Emirates has angered the group’s leaders in Jordan, who say their organisation is being “targeted” by the government.
“This is a form of political revenge and it is targeting the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan,” Murad Adaylah, the group’s deputy leader, told Al Jazeera. “This country has moved back to the days of martial law.”
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Bani Irshid was tried at the state security court – a military court – under Jordan’s anti-terrorism law. The court found him guilty of souring relations with the UAE by criticising, in a Facebook post published last November, the Emirates’ decision to label the Brotherhood as a “terrorist organisation”.
Brotherhood leaders said the court’s decision “jeopardises” the unity of the Jordanian people, at a time when they are already divided over the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“We thought the government would move towards improving relations with the MB, as the group can play a substantial role in their fight against terrorism and extremism in the region,” said Deema Tahboob, a spokesperson for the Islamic Action Front, the Brotherhood’s political wing.
The Brotherhood is now talking about “escalating its response”.
“I think the group will be taking more actions now and will take its criticism of the government’s decision to the streets,” Tahboob told Al Jazeera.
Bani Irshid’s verdict came just 10 days after Jordan released Salafist leader Abu Mohammad al-Maqdesi, who was arrested on similar charges in October after calling the US-led coalition against ISIL a “crusader’s war”. Maqdesi said he was involved in negotiations to free Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh in exchange for Iraqi prisoner Sajida al-Rishawi, who was later executed by Jordanian authorities after ISIL released a video of Kassasbeh being burned alive.
Maqdesi’s release and the imprisonment of Bani Irshid, Tahboob said, “highlights that such decisions are politically motivated and the sheer lack of integrity of the judicial system” in Jordan.
did not want to appear in a weak position in front of both sides – the UAE as a major donor, and MB as the strongest opposition party.”]
Jordanian officials did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
In November, Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said Bani Irshid “should have read the law before publishing his post” and accused him of “risking the livelihoods of millions of Jordanians”.
According to Jordanian political analyst Rakan Saydah, the country “did not want to appear in a weak position in front of both sides – the UAE as a major donor, and MB as the strongest opposition party”.
Meanwhile, political commentator Fahad Kheetan told Al Jazeera that Jordan is sending a message to the Muslim Brotherhood that “it can take legal actions if they [Brotherhood members] challenge its strategic decisions”.
Kheetan said the Brotherhood appeared to challenge the government in recent months when it rallied in support of Hamas following the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza. The Brotherhood also took an “irresolute stand against ISIL”, he noted.
“The group refrained from strongly condemning ISIL and calling it a terrorist group,” Kheetan said.
Adaylah, however, says the Brotherhood has always made clear its stand against terrorism. “We condemn any type of terrorism and extremism, and we do not issue statements upon request,” Adaylah told Al Jazeera, citing pressure from the government to voice criticism of ISIL.
The Brotherhood has been very critical, however, of Jordan’s involvement in the US-led coalition against ISIL.
Also this weekend, the Brotherhood expelled 11 members for submitting a proposal to Jordan’s prime minister to register the group with a different name to distinguish it from the Brotherhood’s international presence.
Nawaf Obaidat, a member of the Brotherhood’s Shoura council, the group’s highest decision-making body, called the proposal “dangerous”.
“The proposal, which limits the group’s role in focusing on internal affairs, is dangerous and undermines the group,” Obaidat told Al Jazeera. “The more the group is concerned about its future, the less vocal it will be in criticising the government’s decisions.”