AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan's state security court on Sunday sentenced a top official in the Muslim Brotherhood to 18 months in prison for criticizing the United Arab Emirates, an ally of the kingdom, his lawyer said.
Zaki Bani Ersheid, No. 2 in the Jordanian branch of the Brotherhood, was arrested in November after he criticized the UAE for labeling the movement a terrorist group.
His sentencing comes at a time of growing polarization in the region, with some Arab countries such as Egypt and the UAE adopting a harder stance against Islamist groups. The Muslim Brotherhood has been formally banned in Egypt and several Arab Gulf countries.
But the venerable Islamist organization remains active in Jordanian politics, as do affiliated Islamist parties in Tunisia and Morocco.
In Jordan, a crackdown in recent months has focused on supporters of the extremist Islamic State group, which has seized large parts of neighboring Syria and Iraq. Dozens of suspected supporters of the Islamic State group have been arrested in Jordan in recent months, but some activists of the more mainstream Brotherhood have also been caught up in the sweep.
Earlier this month, Jordan — backed by the UAE — intensified airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria after the militants immolated a captured Jordanian fighter pilot.
After his arrest, Bani Ersheid was charged with harming Jordan's relationship with a friendly country.
His lawyer, Saleh al-Armouti, on Sunday denounced the sentence as politically motivated. Dozens of Brotherhood supporters protested outside the courthouse, chanting slogans against the government.
The Brotherhood condemned the ruling, saying it is evidence that the government is retreating from promised political reforms.