Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Military tribunal convicts Egyptian factory workers

This rather medieval looking gate is the only thing the Egyptian Company for Engineering Industries, aka military Factory 99, in Helwan. shows on its website.

An Egyptian military court handed down sentences Monday in the trial of eight civilian factory workers who led a protest against deteriorating safety conditions in a military owned factory in the city of Helwan, south of Cairo. Of the eight defendants three were acquitted. Two workers got a suspended prison sentence of a year and three others of a half year, while all five got a fine of one thousand pounds, for damaging parts in the factory. They were acquitted however of the accusation of assaulting the chairman of the company board, and refusing to work.
On August 3, 2010, after the explosion of Nitrogen tube (boiler) in the Military Factory 99 which led to the death of a worker, Ahmed Abdelhady, and the injury of six workers, the workers of the factory held a sit in at which they furiously protested against the factory's heads for neglecting safety conditions. After this protest the eight were arrested and accused of deliberately stopping production, vandalising company property, and assaulting a public official.  
The sentences were less severe thane expected, but rights groups nevertheless said that the trial should never have taken place and was unfair  from the start. Adel Zakaria, a spokesman for the Centre for Trade Union and Workers' Services (CTUWS) said that "civilian workers should not be prosecuted according to military law, which includes provisions that violate the legal and constitutional guarantees to which civilian defendants are entitled."
Even in Egypt it is highly unusual that military courts handle cases related to labour conflicts. The last time this happened was in 1952, when two workers from the northern town of Kafr el-Dawar were referred to a military court after participating in a strike to demand higher wages. The court declared the two guilty of attempting to topple the regime and ordered their execution. 
Rights groups fear the government may be using the threat of military trials to intimidate workers and eliminate the explosively growing labour movement.
The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) recorded, only in 2009, no less than  478 labour protests, including 184 sit-ins, 123 strikes and 106 rallies and demonstrations. Most of the protests were over inadequate wages and deplorable working conditions.
"Thousands of protests, strikes and sit-ins have been staged by Egyptian workers in both the public and private sectors, protesting the rising cost of living and demanding better wages and working conditions. This latest referral before military courts of workers is therefore a disturbing step," Amnesty International said in a statement.

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