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Human Rights Watch urged President Mohamed Morsy to immediately end military trials of civilians in a report Sunday.
The halting of military trials for civilians has been regularly demanded by politicians and rights groups since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces assumed power last February.
“President Mohamed Morsy should pardon all those convicted by military courts,” the US-based rights group said, describing the issue as “one of the first real tests of the powers of the civilian president since the military handover to civilian authority.”
Morsy should use his presidential powers under Article 56 of the Constitutional Declaration and Article 113 of the Code of Military Justice to issue a general pardon for all those convicted by military tribunals, HRW said. A presidential pardon is he only way to overturn trials by military courts.
HRW strongly opposes any trials of civilians before military courts, where proceedings do not satisfy the requirements of independence and impartiality of law courts and are therefore inherently unfair.
The group said that if there is sound evidence of criminal activity against any civilians convicted in criminal courts, Morsy should refer them to civilian courts.
Its research indicates that 2,165 civilians remain in Egypt's military prisons, having been convicted since 28 January 2011. In 2011, military courts tried over 12,000 civilians and convicted at least 9,000. Those convicted included hundreds of political activists, but most of cases were related to ordinary criminal activity. Since March 2011 at least 54 children have been interrogated and detained, with some handed sentences of up to 15 years in length, HRW said.
“International law is crystal clear on this — no civilian, regardless of the crime, should be tried by a military court. It doesn’t take a committee to confirm that,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW.
Military trials and arrests of civilians by the military have continued despite the 30 June “handover to civilian authority," the report added.
Military courts are also currently trying 66 men and 16 women in connection with protests that turned violent near the ministry of defense in Abbasseya in May, according to the report.
It said it has documented frequent arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters by Egypt's military during the dispersal of demonstrations.
The number of civilians the military says have been tried in its courts since last year's uprising, 11,879, does not appear to be accurate, the group said, as the same number was publicized at the end of August last year and hundreds more civilians have since been brought before military courts.
Morsy established a committee to review military verdicts in Presidential Decree 5/2012 last week, which military detainees described as "a vague committee that has mixed objectives and where the litigant is the arbitrator."
HRW said the inclusion of long-term independent human rights and youth activists in Morsy's committee is a precedent worth noting. While the committee's powers remain unclear, it could play an important role in obtaining and making public information about arbitrary detentions and unsound convictions, it said.
“The Muslim Brotherhood’s position on ending military trials of civilians is already in doubt after their failure to any way limit the military’s right to continue referring civilians to military courts,” HRW said. “Now is the time for President Morsy to carry out his promises to end military encroachment on civilian decision-making and uphold human rights by ending military trials of civilians once and for all.”