International and Egyptian rights groups stepped up their calls on Sunday for
President Mohamed Mursi to order an immediate end to military trials of
New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch said the newly elected
president should make a “real test of his powers” by pardoning Egyptian
civilians convicted by military courts and by referring those arrested to trials
before civilian courts.
Both HRW and Egyptian rights group No to Military
Trials (NMT) have said that arrests by the military have continued even after
the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which ruled Egypt after former
president Hosni Mubarak’s ousting last year, formally handed over power on June
30 to Mursi.
The renewed calls came after the committee Mursi set up to
investigate cases of civilians sentenced by military courts recommended on
Friday that the president pardon them all.
Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s
Middle East and North Africa director, said Sunday that Mursi should take a
“principled human rights stance.”
“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,” Whitson said.
2,000 Egyptians remain in prison after being tried in military courts since the
Egyptian revolution began in January 2011.
According to NMT, military
courts have tried over 12,000 civilians last year, and convicted over 9,000. HRW
also said that military prosecutors have detained and interrogated at least 54
children, and sentenced some children to lengthy prison terms of up to 15
Last Thursday, plainclothes military police officers arrested
three members of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (EDSP) during a peaceful
demonstration over the Egyptian constitution in Nasr City, Cairo. A military
court remanded the three men in custody for four days.
On Saturday, the
EDSP slammed the arrest of the three men – named as Karim el-Kanany, Islam Amin
and Muhammad Massoud, and said charges that they had violently attacked the home
of military police head General Hamdy Badeen had been deliberately fabricated as
a “personal courtesy to satisfy the director of the military
Meanwhile, on Sunday, HRW also criticized the president’s
committee to review military verdicts – which includes the assistant public
prosecutor, assistant head of the military system, two civilian representatives
and two youth activists – because that body will not have the power to examine
recent cases, only convictions up until the handover of power on June
To overcome these issues, HRW’s Whitson said Mursi should issue a
general presidential pardon to all those convicted.
In a press conference
in Cairo last week, NMT also urged Mursi to issue an amnesty to civilians
convicted in military courts and send them for retrials in civilian
Attorney Ahmed Raheb of NMT called the practice a “political
weapon used against civilians” and said Mursi must put a stop to it.
group, which has branches in Cairo and Alexandria, has also accused the military
of torturing arrested civilians, including children as young as 15.
Sunday, NMT also called for an accurate inventory of all civilians who have been
tried before military courts since the start of the Egyptian Revolution in
Meanwhile, HRW’s Whitson said Mursi must carry out his
promise to end military encroachment on civilian decision-making.
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,” she noted.
The calls for Mursi
to use his presidential control come as the newly-elected president is already
testing the limits of his powers in a showdown with the military and the courts
over the dissolution of parliament.
Mursi issued a decree to reconvene
the Muslim Brotherhood- dominated parliament, weeks after the Supreme
Constitutional Court ruled to dissolve it, saying that a third of MPs were