World Bulletin/News Desk
An international human rights watchdog on Monday warned that a recent decree by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi to expand the powers of the country's military courts risks "militarizing" the prosecution of protesters and political dissidents.
"This law represents another nail in the coffin of justice in Egypt," Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch (HRW)'s Middle East and North Africa Director, said in a statement.
On October 27, al-Sisi issued a decree ordering the army to guard public facilities and vital state institutions for two years during which these facilities would be treated as military facilities.
People accused of attacking or blocking the operation of these facilities would, thereupon, be referred to military courts.
"[The decree's] 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," Whitson said.
The international watchdog cited the referral of five al-Azhar University students by a Cairo criminal court on Sunday to military court on protest-related charges.
The students were arrested during an anti-regime protest on campus. They face charges of possession of Molotov cocktails and vandalism, among others.
The criminal court said it lacked jurisdiction and moved the case to a military court.
The HRW insisted that military courts, which operate under the mantle of the Defense Ministry, typically deny defendants' rights accorded by civilian courts, including the right to be informed of the charges against them and the rights to access a lawyer and to be brought promptly before a judge following arrest.
"This new decree is pernicious and contrary to basic standards of justice," Whitson said.
She warned that the controversial decree, issued in the absence of a sitting parliament, will pave the way for further military trials of civilians.
"Egypt's military courts, which lack even the shaky due process guarantees provided by regular courts, have tried more than 11,000 civilians since the 2011 uprising," HRW said.
"Egypt's authorities should annul all the military court verdicts against civilians handed down since the new government took power, and President al-Sisi needs to act quickly to amend his decree," Whitson insisted.
Egypt expanded the jurisdiction of military courts late last month to try civilians accused of attacking state facilities or blocking roads, following some of the worst assaults on security forces since last year's ousting of President Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The measure, approved by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is seen by his critics as another clampdown on dissent by a government that has jailed thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and targeted other activists.
As the noose tightened around the Brotherhood, Al Azhar, one of the most venerable centres of Islamic learning in the world, emerged as a flashpoint in its struggle against the new order. In September, Egypt introduced sweeping new rules aimed at curtailing a new round of violent protest at Al Azhar this academic year.
The military trial of civilians is a controversial issue in Egypt, where the armed forces play an influential role in both the political and economic spheres. Sisi was previously chief of the army, which toppled Mursi after mass protests.
Mahmoud Salman, a lawyer and member of the group No To Military Trials for Civilians, criticised the court's decision to transfer the accused on charges relating to acts that took place before the new law was passed, saying it should not be applied retrospectively.Last Mod: 17 Kasım 2014, 13:19