The East Cairo Military Criminal Court sentenced Tuesday five Al-Azhar University students to between three and five years in prison for “burning the gate of the Faculty of Girls”.
According to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), the court also acquitted four others of the charges.
Meanwhile, AFTE and human rights lawyer Moktar Mounir said 10 other students from Ain Shams University were sentenced in absentia to life in prison. The students were also given a fine of EGP 100,000 each by the same court Tuesday.
Defendants are usually given the maximum penalty when sentenced in absentia. Legal procedures require that they turn themselves in to request a re-trial, which can also be made if they are arrested after sentencing.
However, it is the issue of the nature of court that persists. Many reject civilians being tried in front of military courts, based on the constitutional guarantees for the right of citizens to be tried before regular courts.
The constitution initially assigned military judiciary to crimes involving army and intelligence service personnel, but then allowed military trials for civilians for crimes that represent direct assaults on military facilities. The article included a wide range of military belongings including documents, public funds, or military secrets.
The constitutional article also left leeway for the law to identify these crimes and to determine other terms of reference to military judiciary.
Since the approval of the law in October 2014, the number of civilians referred to military trials was estimated to exceed 2,000, according to a member of the ‘No to Military Trials’ independent movement.