Verdict date set for ‘Al-Sisi leaks’ trial

Daily News Egypt
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The verdict session of the military trial of five civilians accused of involvement in the leaks of video and audio recordings of former minister of defence Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has been set to 10 April.

The decision was made after the trial resumed on Wednesday. The first trial session was held on 26 February.

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHR) on Tuesday called on the Military Criminal Court to acquit the two Rassd News Network (RNN) journalists facing trial.

The human rights organisation called for an end of the journalists’ trial in the case that includes three other defendants, one of which of is the chairman of the board of directors of the news network and the other a former soldier.

All five defendants on trial are being charged in relation to a series of leaks RNN released over the past few months, containing audio and video footage of comments made by former Minister of Defence Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

ANHRI said that the charges the journalists face may land them a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine, according to the Penal Code and the Military Justice Code. The human rights organisation asserted in its statement on Tuesday “its rejection of the continuation of military trials for civilians, which don’t have the basic terms and conditions of fair trial”.

The 23 year old detained journalists, Amr Salama and Ahmed Al-Homsi were arrested in November, but on separate dates. Salama was arrested on 12 November, ANHRI said he was taken from his house and that his “laptop, cell phone, and all documents” were seized. On 18 November, Al-Homsi was arrested while on his way out of a university lecture and his laptop was confiscated.

The third detained defendant is the 23 year-old soldier who was arrested on 11 November.

Two more defendants, Chairman of the Board of Directors Amr Abdel Moneim Darwish of the news network and Omar Shahin, a programmer in the network, are still at large and are being tried in absentia.

The No Military Trials for Civilians group said the soldier is being tried “with illegally gaining access to classified material belonging to the Ministry of Defence”. The group said the material is classified as “top secret” and can only be accessed by direct permission from the armed forces.  The two journalists and the chairman of the board of directors face charges of inciting the former soldier and thus being accessories to the illegal gaining of classified material. They also face charges of broadcasting classified material.

The fifth defendant, Shahin, faces charges of broadcasting classified material in the form of 23 letters belonging to the Ministry of Defence.

Military trials for 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”.

ANHRI, however, highlighted that the charges the journalists face are addressed in Article 71 of the 2014 Constitution, which makes imposing an “anti-freedom penalty” in crimes of publishing inadmissible in court. The same article, however, leaves the punishment for crimes related to discrimination, defamation or inciting violence up to legislation.

ANHRI expressed “grave concern over the ongoing target of journalists and the dramatic setback in freedom of expression in Egypt,” after the ouster of Morsi in July 2013. The human rights organisation added that what the journalists did does not constitute an offence and is the “core of their journalistic work”, adding that there is no reason for them to stand trial, nor is there evidence implicating the two journalists regarding information published by the news network.

Amnesty International has described the Rassd journalists’ detention and possible imprisonment as a “violation of international and Egyptian law” and called for their immediate and unconditional release.

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