Could this begin end of Egypt's military courts ?By DALLIA MONIEM in Cairo | Wednesday, July 18 2012 at 19:59
With12,000 civilians, including children, having been tried in Egypt's military courts since the popular uprising of last January; it's no wonder that closing them has been a vital point for activists and rights groups alike. It's also an issue President Morsy promised to tackle during his campaign and one which he's already begun taking steps to address.
A committee has been assigned by the president to study the files of all civilians who've faced military trials in the past 16 months or so. The 10 member committee is made up of officials from the Ministry of the Interior, the public prosecutor, the military and the judiciary as well as rights activists and lawyers.
Activists have cast doubts on committee's sway, describing it as "a vague committee that has mixed objectives and where the litigant is the arbitrator,” and that it's merely an advisory board, even though members “do have the right to visit prisoners, however, and obtain any relevant documentation.”
According to the committee's findings: some 12,000 prisoners are currently facing military trials with around 2,100 civilians still imprisoned following sentencing with the recommendation being a presidential pardon to 700 of them. There is a criteria for their release: they cannot be accused of murder, rape, armed robbery or arms dealing. "We don’t want to release individuals who represent a danger to society," one committee member stated.
But again there appears to be a clash between the president's office and the military council, with various reports that President Morsy had wanted to pardon the recommended detainees but that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) refused. Furthermore, the military prosecution has maintained that no civilian was detained in military prisons during the period from February 11, 2011 to June 30th of this year – the time when SCAF was ruling the country. A statement that is in direct contradiction with Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on this very issue.
The advocacy group report, released earlier this week, called on President Morsy to bring an end to military trials for civilians in order to bring the country in line with international law. "International law is crystal clear on this - no civilian, regardless of the crime, should be tried by a military court. It doesn't take a committee to confirm that," HRW's Middle East and North Africa director said in a statement.
Adding that the most recent figures released by the “military judiciary on the number of civilians tried by military courts did not appear to be accurate as they had not been updated since last year despite on-going arrests and trials of civilians.” Recent arrest and sentencing cases were cited including that of eight protesters, a 16 year old being amongst them. who were sentenced by a Suez military court for using fireworks – something which can be considered as explosives in a protest.
The sentences ranged from six months to three years, the group said.
The 'No to Military Trials for Civilians' movement has been campaigning long and hard for the rights of civilian detainees tried in a military court and sentenced to prison. The group recently set out 6 demands for President Morsy which included: the release of all those who stood in “unjust trials” at the hands of the ruling military and for them to be tried in civilian courts; the compensation to families whose children are in prison; the refusal to grant amnesty for the SCAF and for the it to be held accountable for its unjust actions.
“The Muslim Brotherhood’s position on ending military trials of civilians is already in doubt after their failure to any way limit the military’s right to continue referring civilians to military courts,” HRW said. “Now is the time for President Morsy to carry out his promises to end military encroachment on civilian decision-making and uphold human rights by ending military trials of civilians once and for all.”
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