London (CNSNews.com) - Three British men awaiting trial in Egypt on charges of being members of an outlawed radical Islamic group claimed through a representative Monday that they have been tortured by authorities. The allegations have given an uneasy edge to diplomatic relations between Britain and Egypt.
If convicted, the men could face prison sentences of up to 25 years hard labor.
The men belong to the Hizb ut-Tahrir organization, also known as the Islamic Liberation Party, and were charged Sunday with trying to overthrow the Egyptian government. Twenty-three Egyptians also face the prospect of trials on similar charges.
Two of the three British men, Reza Pankhurst and Muslim convert Ian Nisbett, own an internet business. The third, Maajid Nawaz, was a student at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies.
Reports from Egypt suggest the men were charged with membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, trying to reactivate an illegal group and organizing against the Egyptian government.
But a spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office said Monday that consular officials are still trying to find out the specifics of the charges and the evidence against the men.
The Foreign Office said that it had maintained contact with the men since their arrest in April and that a trial date for the suspects had not yet been set. The spokeswoman said Britain had been pressing for a fair legal hearing for the men.
The spokeswoman would not comment on the reports of torture but said the British government "takes any allegations such as these very seriously."
Hizb ut-Tahrir's representative in Britain, Imran Waheed, said the men were subjected to electric shocks and repeated beatings.
"They were in Egypt for personal reasons," Waheed said. "These were businessmen and a student who were unjustly arrested."
Waheed blamed the men's treatment Egypt's support for the American-led war on terror.
"The real motive of the war on terror is clearly to establish and strengthen U.S. hegemony and influence over the Islamic lands, their people, and their resources," he said.
A spokeswoman with the Egyptian Embassy in London said she had no details about the case or the charges the men faced.
The spokeswoman said that specifics of the case, including the charges lodged against the men, would be revealed "within the next few days" but declined to be more specific. She denied the men had been tortured.
"These are allegations only," she said.
Islamic political groups are outlawed in Egypt and the spokeswoman confirmed that Hizb ut-Tahrir is on the list of banned groups.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is one of several radical Islamic organizations operating in the United Kingdom that advocates Islamic government but stops just short of condoning violence both in Britain and abroad.
Waheed insisted his group is entirely non-violent, even though it advocates the overthrow of all governments in the Islamic world and the imposition of Islamic law.
"We believe these governments are illegitimate," Waheed said. "We have worked in Egypt ... (but) we're solely an intellectual and political group," he said.
Paul Wilkinson, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews University in Scotland, said the group was "not one of the best known groups in Egypt."
Wilkinson said the group wasn't listed on the Center's database of terrorist activity in the last 18 months. While he couldn't definitively say whether or not the group had been involved in terrorist activities and noted that the Egyptian authorities may have secret information about the group, Wilkinson noted that Egypt's definition of terror may differ from Western interpretations.
"I suspect that taken a position contrary to the Egyptian government, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they would considered by Britain or any other Western government as being a terror group," he said. "If they had committed terrorist acts in the past, it would be noted and would be part of our database."
Sarah de Mas, deputy director of Fair Trials Abroad, a British group that supports U.K. citizens arrested abroad, said her organization hadn't been specifically approached about the case, but advocated a fair, open hearing with adequate legal representation.
"We would certainly call for an open trial," she said.
E-mail a news tip to Mike Wendling.
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