The military trial of civilians, two of which are journalists, is slated to continue on Sunday. “Once again journalists are tried before military courts and their rights to a fair trial by a civilian judge as civilians are violated,” said No Military Trials for Civilians, a group advocating against the trial of civilians before military tribunals.
Two detained 23-year-old journalists, Amr Salama and Islam Al-Homsi, are employees of Rassd News Network. Salama was arrested 12 November, while Al-Hosmi was arrested on 18 November. Chairman of RNN’s Board of Directors Amr Abdel Moneim Darwish, who is also charged in the case, has not been arrested and is being tried in absentia.
There are two more defendants in the case, a former soldier who was arrested on 11 November, and another civilian who has also not been detained.
Salama, Al-Homsi and Darwish are charged with illegally obtaining military secrets. The charges relate to a series of leaks RNN released containing audio and video footage of comments made by former Minister of Defence Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. While the authenticity of the recordings has not been verified, neither the armed forces nor Al-Sisi have directly acknowledged the alleged recordings which have spread through social media.
The trial’s first hearing took place last month, and another hearing took place on 24 March. The most recent hearing was adjourned to 30 March to give the defence time to call witnesses and play videos for the case, according to No Military Trials.
Military trials of civilians, which were explicitly permitted in the 2012 constitution, were also maintained in the amended constitution that was ratified in January. Article 204 of the new constitution lists a number of offences for which civilians can be tried in military courts. The list includes a “direct assault against… military secrets”.
On the other hand Article 71 bans imprisonment for crimes relating to publishing, yet leaves the punishment for crimes related to discrimination, defamation or inciting violence up to legislation.
When the article was in draft form in November, No Military Trials warned that the inclusion of “military secrets” in the article would open the door to restricting the freedom of the press and freedom of information.
Amnesty International has described the Rassd journalists’ detention and possible imprisonment as a “violation of international and Egyptian law”.
Sara Al-Sherif, a member of the No Military Trials group, noted that military trials of civilians has continued to rise, adding that the new constitution not only fails to restrict the practice but gives the state “more tools” with which to try civilians before military tribunals.
On 5 October, Sinai-based journalist Ahmed Abu Deraa was handed a six month suspended sentence and an EGP 200 fine after standing trial and facing charges of intentionally spreading false information about the military.
Later that month, Al-Watan journalist Hatem Abdel Nour was accused of impersonating the army and sentenced to one year in prison.
RNN was launched at the start of the January 2011 uprising to report on protests and marches. It is one of the few Egyptian media outlets that recognise the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July as a “military coup”. The network has frequently been accused of being closely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.