File photo: Riot police take positions (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt's Interior Ministry justified Tuesday evening the dispersal by security forces of a protest organised outside the Shura Council in downtown Cairo against a constitutional article allowing military courts to try civilians.
The ministry said in a statement published on its Facebook page that around 200 protesters gathered in front of the Parliament's Upper house, breaking a protest law enforced Sunday, as the protest's organisers did not notify authorities about the gathering.
The ministry added that protesters blocked the main road in front of the Shura council. It said security forces warned protesters and called on them to disperse, but that the demonstrators did not comply.
The ministry accused protesters of hurling stones at security forces, a move that prompted them to use water cannons to disperse demonstrators.
According to Ahram Online's reporter present at the scene, police forces used water cannons and then teargas to disperse the rally within a few minutes.
The ministry said it had arrested 28 "rioters" and filed a complaint that still needs to be investigated by the general prosecution.
Security forces also arrested several human rights activists, including Mona Seif and Salma Saed.
Protesters gathered to denounce a constitutional article that allows the trial of civilians in military courts.
Thirty members of Egypt's 50-member constitutional committee voted in favour of the article, seven against, with two abstentions. The remaining 11 were absent. Another vote is set to take place in the coming days for the article to be adopted in the final draft of the new constitution.
The text of the article mandating military trials in certain cases refers to direct attacks on military premises, camps, properties and factories; attacks on military zones and border areas, and attacks on military vehicles or personnel while they are carrying out their duties. Crimes related to military documents, secrets or funds are also included in the article.
Protesters also denounced a controversial protest law enforced Sunday, which allows security forces to disperse protests if they are not authorised by the Interior Ministry.
Particularly controversial articles include requiring protest organisers to notify authorities three days in advance of a protest's demands and imposing heavy jail terms and fines on individuals who break the law.
In its Tuesday statement, the Interior Ministry also said it warned 6-April founding member Ahmed Maher, claiming he had called for the protest. It added it has advised Maher to refer to the local police station to obtain authorisation for the protest, but that he had refused to comply.
Maher told Ahram Online he had received a call from an Interior Ministry official and that he had told him he could not ask for an authorisation stipulated by a law he did not recognise as legitimate.
Maher added that his youth group took part in the protest but he was not organising it, therefore he wasn't the one who needed to ask for authorisation.
"The police intervention was not justified. Protesters were peaceful. This morning we were also protesting on the marches of the Journalist union, and they dispersed us. Even Mubarak would let us do that," he added, referring to an earlier protest against the new anti-protest law.
The demonstration was led by the Martyr Gaber Salah Movement, a group named after 16-year old activist Gaber Salah ("Jika"), who was killed in clashes with security forces in November 2012.