Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Journalist to be tried in Egyptian military court

An Egyptian journalist has been arrested and will be tried in a military court for writing about the military trial of officers and others who were convicted of plotting a coup. Human Rights Watch has issued this statement, which observes in part:
Egypt’s constitution, approved by referendum in January 2014, states that no civilian can be tried in military court except for “crimes that constitute a direct assault” against military forces or property, but it includes documents and military secrets in that definition. 
In October 2014, [President Abdelfattah] al-Sisi decreed a vast expansion of military court jurisdiction for a period of two years, allowing authorities to prosecute civilians in military courts for any crimes that occur on “public” or “vital” property. Since then, Egyptian media outlets and human rights groups have reported that at least 3,700 civilians have been charged in military courts, many of them for acts related to protesting and the Muslim Brotherhood. 
Egypt’s military courts operate under the authority of the Defense Ministry, not the civilian judicial authorities. They typically deny defendants the rights accorded by civilian courts, including to be informed of the charges against them, to access a lawyer, and to be brought promptly before a judge following arrest. 
“If the government of President Abdelfattah al-Sisi were interested in protecting and advancing the rights of Egyptians, it would bring in Hossam Bahgat to provide advice, not prosecute him,” [HRW Middle East Director Sarah Leah] Whitson said. “The specter of Bahgat joining thousands of other civilians unlawfully charged in military courts starkly demonstrates how Egyptian authorities under al-Sisi believe that the only place for critics is behind bars.” 
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has said that the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Egypt is a state party, requires that military courts “should not in any circumstances whatsoever have jurisdiction over civilians.”
The New York Times has this editorial, which concludes:
In 2002, Mr. Bahgat founded the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a pioneering human rights organization that documented the twists and turns of a tumultuous era that began with the popular uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. Mr. Bahgat’s organization has conducted reporting in a country where human rights activists operate in a legal vacuum. It asked tough questions and all too often found unpleasant truths. Last month, Mr. Bahgat published a story in the independent news organization Mada Masr about the semi-secret prosecution of 26 military officers for supposedly plotting to overthrow Mr. Sisi’s government. 
Mr. Bahgat has always been cleareyed about the risks of his line of work. But that has never stopped him. A jail cell probably could, for a while, if world leaders continue to respond to Egypt’s abuses with a shrug.
Postscript: After numerous protests, the journalist was freed today but whether he remains subject to trial is unknown.

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