Human Rights Watch (HRW) says thousands of Egyptian civilians have been tried in military courts mainly on charges of taking part in anti-government protest over the past 18 months.
The rights group said on Wednesday that at least 7,420 Egyptian civilians have faced trial in military courts since October 2014, when President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi decreed a major new law that expanded military court jurisdiction.
On October 27, Sisi issued a decree that said all “public and vital facilities” will be placed under military rule for the next two years. The law ordered state prosecutors to refer any crimes at the aforementioned places to their military counterparts.
The New York-based watchdog said it had documented 324 of the cases, identifying defendants by name, sex, home governorate, and case number, and in many cases by profession and age. The largest case involved 327 defendants.
The list of cases, provided by the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, an independent legal and human rights group, documented “for the first time the extent to which Sisi’s administration has used the military justice system to expedite its harsh crackdown on opponents.”
Egyptians holding national flags gather on Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square on January 25, 2016, as the country marks the fifth anniversary of the 2011 uprising. (AFP photo)
The list did not describe the charges in each case. However, HRW said a survey of about 50 Egyptian media reports since October 2014, showed “that most of those charged in military courts were transferred there because the broad provisions of Sisi’s law essentially put all public property under military jurisdiction, not because they committed crimes involving the armed forces.”
A large number of those tried were accused of participating in illegal or violent protests, as well as membership in or support for the now banned Muslim Brotherhood group, it said.
The rights group also said that at least 86 children, as well as students, professors, and activists, including individuals who were forcibly disappeared and allegedly tortured, were among those tried in military courts.
Mass trial violates international law
The use of military courts to try civilians violates international law, including the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1984. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights stipulates that civilians should never face military trial.
Human Rights Watch said that “such mass trials, in both Egypt’s regular and military judiciaries, have violated due process guarantees and failed to establish individual guilt.”
“Apparently unsatisfied with tens of thousands already detained and speedy mass trials that discarded due process in the name of national security, Sisi essentially gave free rein to military prosecutors,” said the group’s deputy Middle East
director, Nadim Houry.
“He has handed back to the military judiciary the powerful role it enjoyed in the months after Egypt’s uprising, when the nation was governed by a council of generals,” he added.
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members gesture from the defendants’ cage as they attend their trial, along with ousted president Mohamed Morsi (unseen), at the police academy on the outskirts of the capital Cairo on June 2, 2015. (AFP photo)
Egypt has come under fierce criticism for its widespread crackdown against government opponents since President Sisi came to power nearly three years ago.
Egypt’s 2011 revolution, which began on January 25, led to the overthrow of longtime dictator Mubarak. In an election after Mubarak’s ouster, Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi was elected president, but he was later ousted in a military coup led by then military chief Sisi in July 2013.
The Egyptian government has been cracking down on any opposition since Morsi’s ouster, and Sisi has been accused of leading the suppression of Morsi supporters, with hundreds of them having been killed in clashes with Egyptian security forces over the past few years, while thousands more have been jailed.
Military courts in Egypt are run by the Defense Ministry. The judges are all serving military officers.
HRW said “military court proceedings typically do not protect basic due process rights or satisfy the requirements of independence and impartiality of courts of law.”