CAIRO: A military court on Wednesday adjourned the trial of eight workers to Aug. 28, while about 20 activists from different opposition groups and movements protested outside the High Court of Justice in downtown Cairo against trying the workers in a military court.
On Aug. 3, eight Helwan Engineering Industries Company workers were arrested for leading a sit-in to object to an accident where a nitrogen tube went off inside the factory, also known as Military Factory 99, killing one colleague and injuring many others.
The workers were accused of refraining from work and assaulting a public official, the chairman of the board.
“Another worker was charged with unveiling military secrets after he attempted to contact the media to expose the situation since they work for an army factory,” Adel Zakaria, spokesman for the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), previously told Daily News Egypt.
On Aug. 14, the military prosecution ordered they be held in custody pending investigation. Afterwards, they were held on remand for four more days.
However, the workers were suddenly referred to a military court three days later.
The factory chairman was reportedly sacked after the incident.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the court referred the worker accused of exposing military secrets to the military operations room to investigate whether or not he breached confidentiality rules.
In addition to other charges, the seven other defendants were accused of causing damage to parts of the factory building in an angry response to the explosion accident.
A member of the defense team asked the court to transfer one of the workers to the hospital because he suffered a heart attack. But the court said that this decision is the prerogative of the authority that is holding him in custody.
Another lawyer called for the release of the eight workers because they are civilians and are hence not military laws.
In their testimonies, the witnesses did not identify the eight workers as the ones who carried out that above acts.
According to Zakaria, the first hearing held Sunday lasted for only 10 minutes and the defense team of the workers was denied the right to receive a photocopy of the investigations report in order to review the case.
Though there has been a media blackout about the incident and the trial, several opposition groups, including the Center for Socialist Studies, the Kefaya Movement for Change and the April 6 Youth Movement were well aware of the incident.
“We have our way of reaching such information. Nothing remains secret,” one protester told Daily News Egypt.
Protesters chanted the national anthem and shouted slogans against the government, the Minister of State for Military Production Sayed Meshaal and President Hosni Mubarak.
“Down with military rulership,” some protesters shouted.
A number of protesters carried signs saying “No for referring workers to a military court.”
“These workers did nothing but express their rage towards the death of their colleague and the unsafe conditions they have been suffering. So they cannot by any means be judged by a military court,” journalist and activist Mohamed Abdel-Qodous noted.
“Though the factory is an army affiliate, the facility manufactures home appliances not warplanes,” Mohamed Abdel-Qodous, also the head of the Committee for Protecting Prisoners of Conscience, said.
Reporters were denied entry into the courtroom.
Sentences by military courts cannot be appealed.