By Mai Shams El-Din
CAIRO: Members of the No to Military Trials campaign said Sunday that military trials of civilians are still ongoing as they marked the first anniversary of violations against protesters by the military police on Feb. 26.
On Feb. 26, 2011 military police violently dispersed a sit-in in front of the Cabinet, arresting protesters and in turn inspiring the launch of the campaign.
“Military tribunals are still in place,” dissident journalist and a founding member of the campaign Rasha Azab said in a conference titled “Military Trials of Civilians: One Year of Struggling,” and held at the Journalists’ Syndicate.
“Police arrests citizens for random inspections and then hands them over to the military police that refers them to military tribunals for very trivial charges,” she added.
Azab recounted the story of the first crackdown by the military police against the protesters when they were beaten, electrified, and witnessed the detention of protesters Amr El-Beheiry, whose case revealed the ordeal of military trials for civilians.
“Happy anniversary for the first slap on the face we got by the military,” Azab said.
“We discovered later that detentions and military tribunals had started since the army took to the streets on Jan. 28. This day one year ago they apologized and said that their credit is enough and we now say we do not accept your apology and you ran out of your credit,” she added.
Head of the Military Judiciary Adel El-Morsy said in an interview last year with Egyptian State TV that military trials of civilians were necessary to tackle the security vacuum that ensued after the withdrawal of police forces on Jan. 28, 2011.
“After Jan. 28, civilian police forces completely withdrew from Egypt’s streets which resulted in the civilian judiciary’s inability to perform its duties,” El-Morsy had said, justifying the military trials of civilians.
Activists have long criticized the military judiciary law stipulating that only the military judiciary sets which crimes are subject to its jurisdiction, which is always used to justify military trials for civilians.
Critics said that this part of the law opens the door for interference from the ruling military junta to use military trials as an oppressive tool to crack down on opponents.
El-Morsy, however, had praised the independence of the military judiciary.
“Military judges cannot be sacked, imprisoned or controlled, and the only authority over them is the authority of their conscience. The military judiciary entails all the same guarantees of the independence of the civilian judiciary,” El-Morsy said at the time.
He explained that seven categories inside the military institution are subject to the Law of Military Judiciary, including officers in the army, soldiers, civilians working in military institutions and students in military academies.
“In addition, Articles 4, 5 and 6 of the law stipulate that the military law can be applied on other categories of civilians who commit crimes in places belonging to the military,” he added.
The conference featured speakers who were tried in military courts as they recounted torture inside the military prison.
Families of detainees who are still in military prisons also appealed to the media to raise awareness on the issue, as one of the families recounted the detention of her 20-year-old daughter.
The mother of Nashwa Rafiq alleged that a Lieutenant Colonel in the airforce had proposed to her daughter and the family rejected given his “bad reputation.”
As a result, “he fabricated a case against her,” the mother said.
She said that he threatened her daughter to take the case to court unless she agrees to sleep with him. When she refused, “he fabricated a gun ownership case for which she is now serving a 10-year prison sentence,” the mother said.
Samira Ibrahim, a victim of the forced virginity tests imposed on protesters arrested last year, spoke during the conference Sunday, was not optimistic about her case in military court.
“The charge made against the doctor who conducted the checks is public indecency not sexual assault. I do not trust the military judiciary,” the protester who was handed a one-year suspended prison sentence said.
Rasha Abdel Rahman, another female protester and a victim of the forced virginity tests, testified Sunday in front of the military court in support of Ibrahim against the doctor who conducted the tests.
“I have been silent for a whole year, now it is the time to speak out,” Abdel Rahman, a Cairo University student, said.
“I decided to break my silence and say that I filed another lawsuit today against the military regarding the case of forced virginity tests,” she said to a loud round of applause.