Friday, October 31, 2014

NGOs object to Egyptian decree expanding military court jurisdiction

Fifteen NGOs have objected to the recent decree (No. 136/2014) expanding the jurisdiction of military courts in Egypt. Their joint statement observes in part:
Expanding the jurisdiction of military courts over the trials of civilians breaches the 2014 constitution which restricts the mandate of military courts over civilians to attacks against military personnel and establishments. The new decree is a masked state of emergency as it denies citizens' their constitutional right to be prosecuted before their natural judge. The decree also circumvents the constitutional guarantee by assigning the armed forces, along with the police, to the protection of public establishments thus making them fall within the mandate of military establishments. This creates a parallel judicial system, and could potentially lead to the trial of thousands of civilians before military courts that lack the minimum standards of fair trials.
Since June 30, 2013, civilians accused of terrorism-related offenses targeting the armed forces' personnel, checkpoints or facilities have already faced military trials in Ismailiyya, Suez and Hiekstep military courts, and have been detained in military prisons. According to lawyers, the Ismailiyya military court alone reviews between 40 – 140 misdemeanors cases involving civilians three times a week, and between 20 – 45 weekly felony cases. Due process rights are not upheld in these military courts. For instance, suspects tried in front of the Ismailiyya military court have complained of torture and other forms of degrading treatment at the time of their arrest and in custody. Some defendants claimed to have signed confessions under torture. None had access to a lawyer of their choice during their initial interrogations by arresting authorities or the military prosecution, undermining the right to adequate defense. These trials are held in maximum security military establishments that make them inaccessible to the defendants' lawyers and families.
While a number of amendments to the military justice code introduced in February 2014 rectified some of the problems surrounding military trials, namely the introduction of a right of appeal in misdemeanor cases and cassation for felony cases, proceedings in military courts still flout the basic guarantees of fair trial, including the right to be tried by an independent, impartial tribunal. The military judiciary falls under the authority of the defense ministry, and all the judges and prosecutors are military personnel of various ranks subject to all disciplinary regulations set forth in the military service laws. The minister of defense, based on recommendations from the head of the Military Judicial Authority, appoints military judges, who as such do not enjoy the same level of independence of judges in the regular court circuits.

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