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Victims of military rule: an interminable nightmare

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Can silver-tongued President Morsi take a stand against the Egyptian army's brutal infringement of rights or will he eat his promises and become acquiescent ?

Soha Farouk
8 July 2012

Mohannad Samir, a teenage undergraduate student unaffiliated with any political movement, one of the few who went down to Tahrir Square on January 25 against Mubarak’s regime, and participated actively in all the major sit-ins against the SCAF, has been behind bars for almost six months.

During the violent army's crackdown on the peaceful sit-in outside the cabinet building on December 2011, he was shot in the leg while attempting to save one of his friends who was killed by a bullet in his chest from the military police.

While being treated in hospital, he was asked to testify about his friend's death as he had clearly seen the faces of the security forces that killed him. However, when, before being finally released from hospital he made an effort to go to the Cairo security directorate, to help in the suspect identification from an array of photos, he found himself arrested on trumped up charges of attempting to destroy public property, "thuggery" and incitement to violence. Afterwards, he was put in a basement cell for a few days then transferred to the appalling conditions and worse medical care of Tora prison hospital. His ‘trial’ was postponed three times, prolonging his unjust imprisonment and endangering his health.

Mohannad's story, as told by his mother, was one of nearly 12000 accounts of civilians who were detained and brought before military courts in unfair trials since the deployment of the Egyptian army to the streets on January 28, 2011 up till now, even after Morsi's inauguration. According to Al-Nadeem center report narrating their painful experiences, they don't only include rebels but a diverse spectrum of ordinary people of different ages, social classes and professions; males, females and even children, politically affiliated and unaffiliated.

Many were freed, while the number of people who are still in prison is unknown. Very regrettably they have usually been depicted in the official government-led media as "thugs" who threatened the country's security, hindering any potential large public support of their cause. All the twitter campaigns, YouTube videos, marches, sit-ins and lately the hunger strike have attracted waning attention over time, and are now limited only to human rights defenders and the parents of the detainees.

Any official response?             

Almost all the political parties and active movements have denounced the military trials of civilians, violating the basic right of every human to "a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law”. In theory, military tribunals cannot be used unless the civilian courts can't open their doors or when war is lawfully declared, as is not the case in post-revolution Egypt.

However, once elected, the issue was not on the top of the Islamist- dominated, ex-parliament's agenda. Even worse, a few months later, the MP’s decision was very disappointing to the civil liberties groups, slightly amending the military justice code to strip the president the right to refer civilians to military tribunals, limiting it to the workings of military justice only. They failed to adopt one of the members' proposals which would have given civilians the right to appeal against sentences issued by military courts before civilian tribunals.

Although the new president is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, human rights groups pinned high hopes on him. As a matter of fact, this issue represents a bottleneck for Morsi's presidency to enhance his credibility as a revolutionary leader with full powers, eager to defend the civil rights of his discontented people against any oppression. The tens of protestors gathered outside the presidential palace for many days have forced him to form an investigative committee encompassing the military judiciary, the interior ministry, the public prosecution and civil society members. According to the "No military trials for civilians" movement, highly skeptical of this measure, a plausible solution should comprise a) an official apology and appropriate compensation to all the detainees, b) stopping military tribunals for civilians, issuing presidential pardons to those in military prisons and retrying them in civilian courts, c) prosecution of all the military officials involved in torture and illegal detention practices.

Can the silver-tongued Morsi staunchly oppose the army's consistently defended practices or will he eat his promises and retain his acquiescent rhetoric? For the revolutionaries, the revolution's success is inextricably linked to the fate of those civilians. Those who would "sacrifice their liberties in order to save their freedoms deserve neither".

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