Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Human Rights Watch: Children on trial in Egyptian military courts

 Tora prison in Cairo.

Islam Harby was 15 years old on March 23, 2011, when military police arrested him on the street in the Moqattam neighborhood of Cairo, where he worked at a bakery to support his family, his mother told Human Rights Watch in February. Harby had spoken with Human Rights Watch in April 2011 using a mobile phone borrowed from another prisoner.
“There was a fight in the street, and the army thought that I and two others were thugs, so they arrested us and took me to a court,” he said. “I don’t know what my sentence is.”
Military officers accused Harby of robbery and possession of a knife, and took him to Cairo’s S28 military prison, his mother said. She said he was sentenced the same day.
Harby’s family had received no news of his whereabouts or charges against him until one week after his arrest, when they received a call from another detainee’s family informing them of their son’s whereabouts, they said. They were not able to visit him until late April, when he was transferred to the maximum security section of Tora Prison, in a suburb of Cairo, where he was held in a cell alongside adult prisoners.
Harby’s mother added that she asked the military judiciary office in Salah Salem for a copy of the judgment against Islam and any documents relating to his case, but has yet to receive them. “We only found out his sentence when we saw his name on the prison guard’s list for visits: next to his name it said seven years,” she said.

The case of Islam is one of 43 cases of juveniles taken before military prosecutors and judges that Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian activist group No Military Trials for Civilians have documented in the past year. Some of the 43 have remained in detention for up to a year, and at least six of the youths alleged that army or security officers had physically abused them. In addition to those investigated and prosecuted before military courts, children have also been prosecuted through Egypt’s adult criminal justice and state security courts, rather than before juvenile justice courts as required by Egyptian and international law.
“It’s bad enough that the SCAF is trying civilians in military courts, but to put Egyptian children through the military justice system is an even graver injustice,” said Priyanka Motaparthy, Middle East children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The military has brought children before military courts without even the most basic protections, like access to lawyers or their families. Even worse, authorities have abused them in detention.”

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