Rights activists stress ending military trials, as retrial clears first civilian case

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By Heba Fahmy

CAIRO: Human rights activists as well as the “No to Military Trials for Civilians” campaign reiterated their demands to put an end to military trials of civilians on Sunday, despite the army council’s promise to limit the use of such trials.

In its 68th statement, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) on Saturday cited three conditions in which civilians will face military courts: acts of thuggery involving weapons, rape crimes and assaulting security forces while on duty.

“All the cases that we reviewed in our campaign show that the army framed civilians who were sentenced under military courts for various crimes that they didn’t commit,” said activist and campaign member Mona Seif.

She said that if SCAF wanted to prosecute someone for a expressing an opinion, they could easily frame them for one of the cited crimes.

Egypt is still operating under emergency law.

Seif also pointed out that referring those who assault security forces to military trials gives corrupt police officers the opportunity to abuse peaceful protesters, following the same tactics of the former regime.

Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), echoed Seif’s concerns saying that, “We firmly believe that civilians, even those charged with these heinous crimes have the right to a fair trial in front of a civilian court.”

“Military trials should be restricted to military personnel accused of charges of a military nature, not civilians,” he added.

SCAF’s statement also stressed that peaceful protests were one of the main pillars guaranteed by SCAF since the beginning of the January 25 uprising.

The statement included protests that led to vandalizing public or private property, obstructing public or private interests and hindering the wheel of production, in order to protect the country’s best interest.

“The term ‘interests’ is very vague,” Seif said. “I’ve been to several protests where the protesters were peaceful and yet authorities falsely accused them of being violent.”

Meanwhile, Mohamed Adel, 32, was found innocent of charges of robbing the Egyptian museum and vandalizing public and private property on Sunday, in the first military retrial of a civilian prosecuted during the Jan 25 Revolution.

During the Jan. 25 uprising, Adel was found guilty of breaking the curfew enforced by SCAF then and sentenced to three months in prison, but the sentence was suspended.

Adel was also referred to a military trial on charges of robbing the Egyptian museum and vandalizing public and private property and was sentenced to five years in prison.

The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) accepted an appeal from Adel’s mother to retry him in March, because he was falsely convicted, according to statement number 29, published on the army’s Facebook Page.

“It’s obvious that the military is starting to respond to our pressure as Adel was one of the first [civilians] to be referred to military courts during the revolution,” Seif told DNE.

Seif asked on her twitter account, “How many others have also been unjustly sentenced to imprisonment?”

Lawyer representing Adel, Mohamed Al-Ansary told DNE that Adel was protecting the museum on Jan. 28 when he was detained by mistake. Adel works as an accountant in a renowned bank and has no political affiliations.

On the other hand, several protesters who started a hunger strike on July 10 said the army’s statement was discussed and agreed upon with SCAF during a meeting on Friday.

“We agreed to the statement on a preliminary basis, as long as it is proven that these civilians weren’t framed for crimes they didn’t commit,” Albert Saber, one of the protesters on hunger strike, told Daily News Egypt.

On Saturday the protesters resumed their hunger strike after halting it for 24 hours, because SCAF refused to heed the rest of their demands.

These demands include retrying those who have already been sentenced by military trials under civilian courts and transferring ousted President Hosni Mubarak to Tora Prison from Sharm El-Sheikh International Hospital, where he is detained pending trial in August.

General Hassan El-Reweiny, member of SCAF, commented on the open sit-in in Tahrir Square in a phone-in on Fel Midan program on Al-Tahrir channel late Saturday.

”We have no problem with the people protesting in Tahrir Square against SCAF, as long as they don’t obstruct the work flow,” he said.

El-Reweiny referred to the protesters who closed off the Mugamma (a government administrative complex) last Tuesday, and others threatening to close the Suez Canal and the stock-exchange building in Alexandria, saying they are part of a conspiracy to disrupt the country.

Prominent TV presenter Mahmoud Saad argued saying that these people weren’t the true revolutionaries.

“Well, they were among them,” El-Reweiny responded.

The Mugamma building was closed for three days by protesters earlier last week. The majority of the protesters in Tahrir Square said they were against closing the Mugamma and disrupting peoples’ interests.

“What do the people want more than an elected parliament, a constitution unanimously agreed upon by the people and an elected president…isn’t that ultimate democracy?” El-Reweiny asked.

However, human rights activists voiced their disapproval of SCAF’s “narrow perspective” of the peoples’ needs during this transitional period in Egypt, and accused it of falling short of their expectations.

“The call for respecting human dignity and social justice is what started this revolution,” Bahgat said.

“Unfortunately SCAF hasn’t lived up to these demands yet,” he added.

Seif, who has been participating in the open sit-in in Tahrir Square since July 8, agreed saying there are more pressing issues that need to be addressed before democracy.

“The people want justice…they want fair trials of those accused of killing the martyrs,” she said.

El-Rewieny emphasized the independence of Egypt’s judiciary and criticized the call to “cleanse the judiciary.”

He also stated that one of SCAF’s legitimate responsibilities — according to the constitutional decree it announced in March — is to appoint the country’s ministers and fire them when necessary.

“However, we let Prime Minister Essam Sharaf execute [this task],” he said.

Activists harshly condemned this statement, saying that the constitutional decree was imposed on the people.

“The constitutional decree was a tyrannous act that the army imposed on us to widen its jurisdiction,” Seif said.

“The army should limit its role to guarding the political transition to a civilian state without interfering during this critical period,” Bahgat said.



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