HRW criticises law expanding military trials in Egypt

Ahram Online, Monday 17 Nov 2014

Human Rights Watch says a recent law which expands military trials for civilians is a "nail in the coffin of justice in Egypt"

Human Rights Watch issued a report on Monday criticising the law issued by Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi that allows the military to assist the police in guarding vital public facilities.

The organisation said the law "vastly extended the reach of the country's military courts and risks militarising the prosecution of protesters and other government opponents," according to the report.

The law, which was issued on 27 October and is to be applied for two years, stipulates that those who attack these government facilities will be referred to military prosecutors and tried by a military court.

The report made reference to Sunday's referral of five students to a military court for allegedly torching Al-Azhar University.

Nine people were also arrested according to the law in the Nile Delta governorate of Sharqiya on 28 October.

The report by HRW described the law as "[representing] another nail in the coffin of justice in Egypt," according to Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at the organisation.

"Its absurdly broad provisions mean that many more civilians who engage in protests can now expect to face trial before uniformed judges subject to the orders of their military superiors."

Egypt's cabinet agreed on the law in order to let military courts try terrorism-related cases that "jeopardise the country's security".

Universities and schools are considered public facilities under the law, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said on 27 October during a phone interview with private broadcast channel CBC Two.

"[The law] is the will of the people, their opinion and [public facilities] are their money," Mahlab added.

Egypt's 2014 constitution states that "civilians cannot be tried in front of military courts except for crimes that represent a direct attack on military facilities."

According to the law, the vital facilities include electric power stations and pylons, gas pipelines, oil fields, railway stations, road networks and bridges.

Egyptian authorities insist that military trials do not differ fundamentally from trials in civilian courts as defendants are guarranteed all rights enjoyed in the latter.

The temporary law was issued following a deadly attack on security forces in North Sinai in October, which led to the declaration of a three-month state of emergency in the area.

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