Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi on Saturday decided to end military trials for civilians except as provided for by martial law. Tantawi is Head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
General Adel al-Morsy, head of the Military Justice Commission, had said earlier that military tribunals for civilians would end once the state of emergency was lifted.
Under martial law, civilians are tried before military courts for crimes committed in camps, barracks, institutions, factories, ships, aircrafts, vehicles, places or shops being used by the military for any purpose. They can also be tried for crimes involving military equipment, missions, weapons, ammunition, documents, or secrets.
The First Circuit Administrative Court had referred a request by the Supreme Constitutional Court to decide on the constitutionality of Article 48 of the Military Justice Code No. 125 for the year 1916 and its amendments. Article 48 states that military’s judicial authority is the sole body with power to decide whether an alleged offense is within its jurisdiction.
Rights groups say this opens the door for referring civilians to military trials without any regulations protecting them.
According to Heba Morayef, an Egyptian researcher with Human Rights Watch, prohibiting the referral of civilians to military trials except as provided for in martial law renders the decision “completely meaningless."
"It doesn't matter what the nature of the crime is. Referring civilians to military courts is a clear violation of human rights," she said. "The only statement that will make sense is if Tantawi says he’ll stop military trials in all cases except for those serving in the army."
According to Morayef, section I and II of the second book the Penal Code has a long list of crimes, among which include spreading false information about the military, the same crime with which blogger Mikal Nabil was charged and is currently serving time in prison. According to Morayef, his case represents “a blatant violation of human rights.”
Additional reporting by Rana Khazbak
Translated from the Arabic Edition