Military injustice: Activists, lawyers deem military trial pardons insufficient

This weekend, the outgoing head of military judiciary Adel Morsy released 13 civilians who were convicted in military trials following the Abbasseya violence in May. On Tuesday, President Mohamed Morsy had pardoned 150 civilians who were serving sentences they received in military trials. However, activists and human rights lawyers remained critical of the selective approach that the president is taking toward those convicted in military trials.

The pardons were based on the recommendations of a committee that Morsy created last month to review the cases of the detainees. This is the second group that Morsy has pardoned based on the committee’s recommendations following the first group of 572 detainees.

Mahmoud Fawzy, spokesperson for the committee, told Egypt Independent that this would be the last batch of military trials’ victims that the committee recommends for pardoning, leaving more than a thousand military detainees still in prison.

Over the course of the past year and a half, about 12,000 civilians have been tried in military tribunals on charges ranging from breaking curfew to assaulting military officers. The committee announced at the start of its mission that, following pardons issued by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi in the past months, about 2,000 victims of military trials remain in prison.

The Protection of Freedom Committee that Morsy created includes representatives of the Interior Ministry and the military judiciary, in addition to four representatives of civil society.

While Fawzy said the committee’s main goal is to identify “the revolutionaries” among the detained and recommend their release, lawyers and activists insist that all civilians tried in a military trial, guilty or not, have the right for a retrial in a civilian court.

“All civilians tried in a military trial have been wronged, even the criminals, because they were denied a fair trial,” said Salma Abdel Gelil, a member of the No to Military Trials for Civilians group, which has been fighting the practice since March 2011. The group has refused to be part of the committee, in objection to its mission.

“The issue only needs an executive committee to put our recommendations into effect, and not a committee to filter and choose,” she said.

Fawzy’s description of the work of the committee, contrary to the group’s demands, contains a high level of selectivity.

“We start to see if this individual has the criteria to deserve a second chance, or if he’s a danger to society and committed a crime that shouldn’t be pardoned,” said Fawzy.

The criteria set by the committee while making its recommendations relates to both the profile of the detainee and the nature of the crime that he was indicted for.

The main criteria set by the committee, Fawzy said, is getting arrested while engaging in activities that relate to freedom of expression and political involvement and having a clean recent criminal record.

There are additional considerations that the committee takes into account, Fawzy said.

“The job of course is important, it gives certain indications. This doesn’t mean that we only release the highly educated, but when someone fits the criteria and additionally has a respectable job that’s not known to engage in criminal activity, this confirms to us that we made the right decision,” said Fawzy.

Fawzy said the committee also set a list of crimes that it refers to as “crimes that revolutionaries wouldn’t commit” that it excludes from the pardon. The crimes include theft, assault of officials, rape, murder and other crimes that endanger society.

Fawzy explained that the second group contains a smaller number of detainees recommended for pardoning because all the remaining civilians detained with a military trial are either indicted with crimes that endanger society or have a recent criminal record.

The committee will now move on to reviewing the cases of “revolutionaries” who received sentences in civilian courts. Whether a defendant is considered a revolutionary or not is entirely up to the committee’s determination, based on its reading of the candidates’ profiles.

Activists who have worked against this practice refuse this selectivity and demand a retrial of all the civilians tried in military trials, without discrimination.

Abdel Gelil said this criteria might exclude non-political, low-profile citizens who were randomly arrested for breaking curfew and other charges. Additionally, she said as many of those arrested while protesting were falsely indicted of violent crimes, the committee’s criteria could exclude them from the pardon.

Abdel Gelil also criticized the continuation of the practice of trying civilians in military trials even as the committee, which she said indicates a condemnation of the practice by the president, is in process.

Activist Bassem Mohsen, tried in a military court after being arrested while protesting in Suez last month, was sentenced Sunday to two years in prison.

Rejecting Morsy’s solution to the military trials of civilians file, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center released a proposed solution to end the practice more effectively.

The law center proposes that all the verdicts against civilians tried in military trials are annulled and not pardoned in order not to leave the convicted with a criminal record, and to form a committee to determine which defendants can be immediately released and which require retrials in civilian courts.

The paper additionally requires the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to apologize for the trial of civilians in military trials and to investigate the assaults allegedly committed against them during their detention, such as virginity tests and beating.

To end the practice, the center proposes changes in the military judiciary law to limit its jurisdiction to crimes committed by members of the military. The current law gives the military judiciary the right to determine its own jurisdiction.

Activists said a minor amendment to the law passed by the now-dissolved Parliament that only removed the president’s power to refer civilians to military trials didn’t solve the problem.

Abdel Gelil said that after Morsy retired Tantawi and former Chief of Staff Sami Anan and canceled the Constitutional Declaration supplement that limited presidential powers, the group would increase its pressure on the president to release all the victims of military trials unconditionally.

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.

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