Mursi urged to end military trials of civilians

International and Egyptian rights groups say president must use his powers to stop arrests and detentions.

Mursi sworn in 370 (photo credit: REUTERS )
Mursi sworn in 370
(photo credit: REUTERS )
International and Egyptian rights groups stepped up their calls on Sunday for President Mohamed Mursi to order an immediate end to military trials of civilians.
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.
Over 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 years.
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 police.”
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 30.
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 courts.
Attorney Ahmed Raheb of NMT called the practice a “political weapon used against civilians” and said Mursi must put a stop to it.
The group, which has branches in Cairo and Alexandria, has also accused the military of torturing arrested civilians, including children as young as 15.
On 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 January 2011.
Meanwhile, HRW’s Whitson said Mursi must carry out his promise to end military encroachment on civilian decision-making.
“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,” 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 elected illegally.