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5,000 Civilians Tried in Egyptian Military Courts, says Human Rights Watch

by Mai Shams El-Din

CAIRO - Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Friday that the Egyptian military has tried over 5,000 civilians in military courts since February.

Officers detain a man in an army vehicle at Tahrir Square, Cairo, April 12, 2011. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Friday that the Egyptian military has tried over 5,000 civilians in military courts since February. (Reuters) It urged the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to put an end to military trials for civilians.

"Human Rights Watch strongly opposes any trials of civilians before military courts, where the proceedings do not protect due process rights and do not satisfy the requirements of independence and impartiality of courts of law," the report read.

Rights lawyer Adel Ramadan from the Egyptian Initiative of Personal Rights who was representing civilians tried before military courts told HRW that the army has tried 5,000 civilians across the country since Mubarak's ouster in Feb.11 until mid-April.

"The military courts typically handle groups of between five and 30 defendants at a single trial, with a trial lasting 20 to 40 minutes," Ramadan told HRW.

According to the report, 76 peaceful protesters were among the 5,000 civilian detainees tried in military courts during violent crackdowns by the military police to disperse Tahrir Square protests on Feb.26, March 9, April 9 and April 12.

The report recounted in detail the incidents of detention and torture according to testimonies by those who were released and others who were still in custody.

"Egypt's military leadership has not explained why young protesters are being tried before unfair military courts while former Mubarak officials are being tried for corruption and killing protesters before regular criminal courts," Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying in the report.

"The generals' reliance on military trials threatens the rule of law by creating a parallel system that undermines Egypt's judiciary."

The report also mentioned the detention case of blogger Maikel Nabil who was arrested by the military from his home in March.

Nabil, who is known for his controversial views regarding the state of Israel and other issues, cited on his blog what he called the army’s conspiracy against the revolution, recounting torture allegations against the army in a post titled “The army and the people are not one hand.”

Head of Military Police General Mahmoud Badeen denied in an interview with Al-Shorouk daily newspaper all torture allegations against military police, but in a contradictory move, SCAF later issued a statement promising to investigate allegations and to reinvestigate all the detention cases of Tahrir protesters.

Amr Eissa and Mohamed Adel were two such cases, but their families deny any real action to date.

"Nothing new since then," Nariman Ahmed, Adel's mother told Daily News Egypt in a previous interview. "I went to the Ministry of Defense and showed them SCAF's statement and said they will look at it but no real legal steps were taken," she said.

Adel's mother expressed deep concern about her son's imprisonment, and questioned why her son was tried in three days while his release process was taking such a long time.

"They even asked me why I was in such a rush,” she said.

Rasha Azab, a journalist who claimed to have been tortured by military police during the March 9 crackdown, filed earlier a lawsuit against SCAF at the State Council to stop military trials of civilians. The case was adjourned to May 10.

Azab told Daily News Egypt in a previous interview that this case was only the legal facet of a bigger campaign aiming to end military trials for civilians.

"Events have proven that the SCAF needs pressure to execute the revolution's demands, and Mubarak's trial is an example," Azab said.

"We are trying to pressure SCAF into releasing all civilian prisoners and to have them tried before civilian courts so they can have the right to defend themselves," she added.

Azab hinted that the State Council and the Prosecutor General do not want to confront the SCAF, “but we need to keep the pressure so that they would listen to our demands,” she said.

The HRW report cited the Code of Military Justice in which articles five and six authorize the army to transfer civilians to military courts only in specific cases when crimes are committed in areas under the control of the military, or when one of the parties involved in the crime is a military officer.

The report quoted the military's head of Morale Affairs Gen. Ismail Etman in an interview aired on Egyptian private channel ON TV where he said that "in cases where it affects the security of the Armed Forces or the security of the country such as thuggery, looting or destruction of property, theft, and especially if one of the parties is a military officer, we transfer it to military trials to be looked into immediately."

Rights activist and a member of the "No Military Trials for Civilians" campaign, Mona Saif, hailed the report, confirming that such reports maintain pressure on the SCAF to move towards ending military trials.

"The main reason why SCAF issued a statement promising to investigate torture allegations was that the whole scandal of virginity checks of female protesters was reported all over the international media," said Saif.

However, others believe that the intervention of foreign institutions should be avoided, since it threatens the credibility of campaigns such as the one against military trials, recalling how the ousted regime used the threat of foreign agendas to smear the work of rights activists.

"This could be applicable if we are talking about suspicious media channels, but reputable and trustworthy organizations like Human Rights Watch are very effective, and their efforts are highly welcomed and appreciated," said Saif.

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