Military representative defends military trials article in constitution

Ahram Online, Wednesday 25 Sep 2013

Debate continues within the constitutional committee as to whether military trials for civilians should be completely banned

Army rep
Army rep in 50-committee (Photo: Ahram)

An Egyptian military representative who is a member of the committee amending the constitution has defended an article that permits military trials for civilians.

Article 198 in the 2012 constitution stated that military trials were allowed for crimes that "harm the armed forces." A draft set of amendments, prepared in August by a technical committee, reformulated the article. Article 174 in the amended document allows civilian trials for crimes that "represent a direct assault on the armed forces."

Any rewording of Article 174 is a direct attack on the armed forces, argued military representative Magd El-Din Barakat at a meeting of the 50-member constitutional committee on Wednesday.

Barakat, who described the article as giving armed forces the right to protect its institutions and prosecute attackers, said that while the military supported ending the practice of subjecting civilians to military courts, there must be an exception made for civilian attacks on military institutions.

Not prosecuting such civilians in military courts would be "the destruction of the military judiciary," he claimed.

According to Barakat, civilians have only been tried in military courts for two types of crimes - attacking armed forces personnel and assault on ammunition and equipment.

His statements came following a meeting between the No to Military Trials for Civilians activist group, which advocates for a complete removal of the article with no exceptions and representatives of the 50-member committee on Monday.

Following the Monday meeting, rights lawyers and members of the No To Military Trials group proclaimed the meeting "successful." However, they stated that the group will reject the constitution draft if Article 174 is not amended to fully ban military trials for civilians.

"If the draft still includes any exception for holding military trials for civilians, we will organise a campaign for a 'no' vote on the draft," rights lawyer and member of the group Ragia Omran told the press.

The 50-member committee's spokesman, Mohamed Salmawi, said Wednesday that the majority opinion of the committee is to completely ban subjecting civilians to military trials, but some members advocate simply restricting the use of such trials.

According to Salmawi, the matter is still under discussion.   

On Monday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy assured his American counterpart John Kerry that civilians arrested during recent protests across Egypt would not face military trials.

However, local human rights organisations including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and No To Military Trials of Civilians have reported several military trials of civilians charged in relation to recent violence in the country, with dozens given prison sentences.

In addition, Sinai-based reporter Ahmed Abu Deraa is currently on trial in a military court for charges of photographing the Suez Canal and other prohibited sites, in addition to trespassing on military land without a permit.

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