Monday, September 12, 2011
HRW: More people have been tried by military courts under SCAF than in 30 previous years
Human Rights Watch has done its arithmics. As Egypt’s military has arrested almost 12,000 civilians and brought them before military tribunals since SCAF took over in february 2011, HRW concluded that this is more than the total number of civilians who faced military trials during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak. “Nearly 12,000 prosecutions since February is astounding and shows how Egypt’s military rulers are undermining the transition to democracy,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The military can end these trials today – all it takes is one order to end this travesty of justice.”
In a September 5 news conference Gen. Adel Morsy of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) said that between January 28 and August 29, military tribunals tried 11,879 civilians. The tribunals convicted 8,071, including 1,836 suspended sentences; a further 1,225 convictions are awaiting ratification by the military.
Under the Mubarak government, such trials were reserved for high-profile political cases, such as the 2008 conviction of the former deputy guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shatir, and 24 others; cases in which the defendants had been arrested in a military zone such as the Sinai; or bloggers who criticized the military.
Human Rights Watch said that the proceedings before miliary courts do not protect basic due process rights and do not satisfy the requirements of independence and impartiality of courts of law. Defendants in Egyptian military courts usually do not have access to counsel of their own choosing and judges do not respect the rights of defense. Judges in the military justice system are military officers subject to a chain of command and therefore do not enjoy the independence to ignore instructions by superiors.
Morsy also said the referral of civilians to trial before military courts for violations of the Egyptian penal code would end as soon as the state of emergency is lifted. SCAF generals previously have said that the Code of Military Justice gives them the jurisdictional grounds to bring civilians before tribunals. This law provides overly broad jurisdiction to the military justice system in articles 5-6, which allow for civilians to be brought before military tribunals for crimes under the penal code if the crime takes place in an area controlled by the military or if one of the parties involved is a military officer. Since taking over the government, the military appears to consider the whole country “controlled by the military” and therefore everyone is potentially subject to military trials.
“The military should end the state of emergency immediately, but even that will not be enough to end military trials of civilians,” Stork said. “The Egyptian authorities should amend the Code of Military Justice in line with its obligations under international law to limit military jurisdiction to military offenses.”
International human rights bodies over the last 15 years have determined that trials of civilians before military tribunals violate the due process guarantees in article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which affirms that everyone has the right to be tried by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. Egyptian human rights lawyers have filed two cases before Egypt’s administrative court, the Council of State, appealing against SCAF’s administrative decision to bring civilians before military tribunals, which the court will hear in September.
Military courts have acquitted only 795 of the nearly 12,000 cases they have tried, a conviction rate of 93 percent, Human Rights Watch said.
In July, the SCAF issued statement number 68 in which it announced that it was limiting the use of military tribunals to three categories of crimes: “thuggery,” rape, and assault against police officers, a limitation of little practical relevance since these categories cover the vast majority of cases before tribunals over the past months. The vast majority of those sentenced by military tribunals are not political cases but involve individuals arrested in connection with alleged regular criminal activities. Those sentenced included a 16-year-old child, Islam Harby Raga, currently in Tora prison serving a seven-year sentence after a military trial in February in which he was convicted on charges of assaulting a public official.
Blogger Maikel Nabil, currently on hunger strike, is serving a three-year prison sentence for “insulting the military establishment” and “spreading false information” – in fact, for peaceful expression of his views on his blog and on Facebook. Nabil’s lawyers have appealed his sentence and another military court will hear his appeal on November 1. On September 5, Morsy insisted that there were no cases regarding freedom of expression before the military courts, saying that Nabil was a case of “insulting the armed forces.”
In response to growing public calls for an end to military trials of civilians, the military has chosen instead to criticize the media for its coverage of the trials. In a news release on September 7, Morsy warned the media to stop commenting on military trials and spreading “false” information about proceedings.