Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) annual report on Egypt for 2015, included claims that at least 3,000 people were charged or sentenced before military courts.
The inclusive report detailed the situation on a number of issues, including armed groups and counter-terrorism, security force abuses, accountability, arrests, mass death sentences, freedom of association, expression, assembly and religion, women’s rights, LGTB rights and refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants.
The report stated that at least 3,000 persons have been charged or sentenced before military courts. Other reports, however, state the actual number as being far larger.
“The practice of referring civilians to military prosecution and courts has increased massively since the issuance of law No. 136/2014,” said a member of the activist group ‘No to Military Trials for Civilians’, Sara El-Sherif.
The law, widely condemned by civil rights NGOs, stated that public buildings and facilities, including “electricity networks and stations, gas pipes, oil fields, railways, road and bridge networks, as well as other buildings, utilities and public property and anything that is considered as such” are considered “vital” facilities and thereby fall under the “security and protection” of the military judiciary.
Through this provision, issued in October 2014, the military can send any civilian accused of vandalising public property or blocking public roads to trial in a military court.
El-Sherif said the largest demographic affected by this law is the student population as, according to the law, universities and schools are identified as under the jurisdiction of military trials.
University students in particular have been a vocal part of the opposition movement since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in 2013.
One civil rights organisation, often regarded as having Islamist leanings, the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF), claimed earlier in January that 6,048 people have been referred to military trial from November 2014 up to the end of December 2015.
On counter-terrorism, the HRW report stated that the Egyptian government has committed a significant number of additional forces. However, it says the fight between security forces and the militant group “Sinai Province”, an affiliate to “Islamic State”, has escalated.
The report mentioned that the government said its counter-terrorism operations in North Sinai killed at least 3,091 “terrorists” between January and July 2015. The report commented that the government did not allow “independent observers” to the combat zone, and that the government did not acknowledge or state the numbers of civilian causalities of the fight.
“Al-Sisi issued a sweeping counter-terrorism law that expanded the authorities’ powers. Law enforcement forces, especially the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency, committed torture and enforced disappearances, and deaths in custody continued. Mass trials mostly targeting Brotherhood members failed to establish individual guilt,” the report read.
According to the report, the police “regularly” used torture as part of their investigations, referring to a January report by “an Egyptian human rights law firm” which said its lawyers had interviewed 465 alleged victims of police torture and ill-treatment between October 2013 and August 2014 and filed 163 complaints to prosecutors, only seven of which reached the courts.
The HRW report acknowledged the court sentence against a Central Security Forces (CSF) officer who was convicted of killing the leftist activist, Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh in a peaceful protest on 25 January 2015.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zaid however told Daily News Egypt that government will not comment on the HRW report as it is issued by a “biased and non-objective” organisation
“The report is a compilation of previous reports, that we have reviewed individually and found inaccurate,” he said.
Abu Zaid added that the report contains contradictions; an example being that the report states that “the Egyptian government uses terrorism as an excuse [for violations] and in the same report it points to increasing terrorism”.
“The authorities continued to restrict freedom of expression and association by investigating independent, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), arresting people suspected of being gay or transgender, and prosecuting those accused of defaming religion,” the report read.