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Opposition to Military Trials of Civilians in Egypt Gains Momentum

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Three months after the Egyptian military took the reins of power following the popular uprising that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces is coming under growing criticism for its widespread use of military trials against civilians. On May 9, a press conference was organized at the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo for people to speak out against the military court system, which has been used to convict and jail more than 5,000 civilians since January 25, the first day of massive protests at Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Democracy Now! correspondents Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar filed this video report from Cairo. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, you have filed a piece for us on military trials. Introduce it for us.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, this is a very big issue here. It’s a growing issue, and I think more and more people are becoming aware in Cairo and in greater Egypt, that the — this has been a new thing that has happened. Before, military trials were really reserved for key terrorism cases, high-profile Muslim Brotherhood figures. Sometimes it was used against bloggers. But since the revolution, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, the military, has conducted more than 5,000 military trials against civilians. Many of these people are protesters. They’re revolutionaries. And they are convicted very quickly, in short amounts of time, without proper legal representation, and they receive significant prison sentences. And so, this was our report on some of the organizing against this practice.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, thanks so much for joining us. This report by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, produced by Nicole Salazar.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Three months after the army took the reins of power in Egypt following the popular uprising that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces is coming under growing criticism for its widespread use of military trials against civilians.

In the second press conference of its kind since the revolution, dozens of people gathered at the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate in downtown Cairo to speak out against the military trial system, which has been used to convict and jail thousands of civilians since January 25th. Journalists, attorneys and activists joined with the family members of those detained to call on the Supreme Council to end the practice and review thousands of cases. A short video was also shown featuring family members of those convicted in military trials giving testimony of their loved ones.

Mona El Seif is an activist who organized the press conference and helped launch the “No to Military Trials” campaign.

MONA EL SEIF: We think it’s a really important issue, because apparently it has been going on since the beginning of the revolution 'til the current day. And it's not just about the crackdown on protests, and it’s not just about arresting hundreds of protesters from the Tahrir sit-in. It’s much bigger than this. The issue is that civilians have been — military trial, from January 28th ’til now. We are talking about more than 5,000 civilians, without any press coverage, without anyone knowing about it.

And all the testimonies show that this process of military trials are completely unfair. Most of them did not have lawyers with them. No evidence has been supplied to either support or refute the charges. And all of them get sentenced in really short times, in a matter of days, and really harsh sentences.

So, we are basically trying to build up a proper campaign to put an end to military trials of civilians, and we are saying that the regular law could handle all of these situations, and it could very well distinguish between the criminals, and apply sentences on them, and those who were taken by mistake.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: At the press conference, the family members of those detained clamored to have their voices heard and to tell the stories of their loved ones.

SAYEDA IBRAHIM: [translated] My brothers were sentenced for three years. They are now in Tora Prison under very strict guard. We respect the army. We know that this army protects us from the inside and the outside. But they should not — we should treat civilians with more respect. Just as the ex-president and the ministers are all being tried in front of civil courts, the revolutionaries should also be tried in front of civil courts.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The family members of those detained — mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters — all gathered at the Journalists Syndicate to tell their stories. Hosneya Samira Ahmed’s son, Samir Hassan Ibrahim, is a 19-year-old student and former champion boxer. He was arrested on March 9th along with dozens of peaceful protesters when a sit-in at Tahrir Square was forcibly cleared by the army.

HOSNEYA SAMIRA AHMED: [translated] On March 9th, the army and the thugs came, attacked the square. They attacked many of the tents. And this is all shown on video online. The entire square was cleared at 3:00 in the afternoon. It was not past curfew. They did not have weapons. These are students. These are revolutionaries. The army should be there to protect them. I’m asking the Supreme Council of Armed Forces to release my son and to prove that he’s a revolutionary. A hundred and seventy-three revolutionaries were taken that day.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Mohammed El Kashef told a similar story. His son was part of the same sit-in in Tahrir Square on March 9th, when he was arrested and convicted in a military trial.

MOHAMMED EL KASHEF: [translated] The army arrested his brother, so he went to speak to them, just because he knows them and he’s been working with them for quite some time. So he went to speak to them about his brother. They tore his name tag. They arrested him, tried him, and he’s now in prison. He was very badly tortured. He was electrocuted. It all shows on his back. His cell in prison is full of insects. He’s being very badly treated there. He’s a wonderful person. This should not be happening to him.

The army is trying civilians in front of military courts. Military trials should be for people in the military and for traitors, not for civilians. It is not constitutional to try civilians in front of military courts. Who’s going to make up the time? Who’s going to make up the months? The army should know its limits. We don’t want military rule. No to military rule!

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: For Democracy Now!, I’m Sharif Abdel Kouddous with Nicole Salazar in Cairo, Egypt. Special thanks to Nazly Hussein for translation.

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