The 50-member constituent assembly, tasked with drafting amendments to the 2012 constitution, conducted a hearing session on military trials on Thursday, hosting Medhat Radwan, the head of the military judiciary authority.
The session is the first among two, called for by the No Military Trials for Civilians group.
Following the session, constituent assembly spokesman Mohamed Salmawy held a press conference where he provided Radwan’s statements during the three-hour long session, reported state-run Al-Ahram.
During the session, Radwan stated that the armed forces took over the responsibility of security at an exceptional time, when both the police apparatus and the judiciary were not functioning, in the days following the 25 January revolution in 2011.
Mohamed Fouda, member of the No Military Trials group, said that if such was the case, military trials of civilians should have stopped a long time ago, due to the return of the police and the judiciary.
Radwan said that the fundamentals of the military judiciary are no different than those of the civilian judiciary. Military judiciary personnel study the same courses and go through the same training that civilian judiciary personnel go through.
Fouda responded that while judges working within the civilian judiciary are independent, military judges are originally military officers who work under military authority.
“How could a judge who belongs to a certain institution be completely neutral?” Fouda asked. “Bear in mind that the military institution is usually a party to court cases which are ruled on by military tribunals.”
Fouda added that the degrees within civilian judiciary are more than those of the military judiciary, giving defendants the chance to appeal civilian verdicts, unlike military verdicts.
Radwan denied earlier figures suggesting that there are 350 civilians inside military prisons. He added that since 2011, around 800 civilians received a military trial per year, since most of them were involved in border smuggling or attacking military institutions.
Adel Al-Morsi, former head of the military judiciary authority, announced in September 2011 that over 11,000 civilians were referred to military trials since January 2011.
“We have been asking the armed forces to issue an accurate number of those referred to military trials for over two years now, yet to no avail,” Fouda said.
Fouda said No Military Trials has prepared a set of demands, which it intends to put forward during its hearing session at the constituent assembly, scheduled for next week. The first and most important demand is, clearly, specifying in the constitution that military trials be banned for civilians, leaving no room for exceptions. Article 198 of the now-suspended 2012 constitution prohibits military trials for civilians, except in cases where harm is inflicted upon the armed forces.
“Exceptions open the door for violations,” Fouda said.
The group is also demanding keeping article 75 of the 2012 constitution unchanged. The article states that people are to be tried in front of civilian courts, and bans all exceptional trials.
No Military Trials’ third demand is to include an article on transitional justice, proposed by the Warakom Bltaqrir rights group, in the constitutional amendments. The proposed amendment gives all civilians who were subjected to military trials the right to compensation and punishes those who committed crimes against them.
During Thursday’s press conference, Salmawy stated that constituent assembly members are divided on the issue of military trials. While some members completely oppose subjecting civilians to military trials, Salmawy said, others are calling for allowing military trials of civilians who directly attack any armed forces personnel or institutions, and a third group suggest removing the issue from the constitution and leaving it to the law to decide the cases where civilians should be subjected to military trials.
Four men in the port city of Suez were sentenced to prison by a military court for violating the curfew on Tuesday, the latest in the continuing series of military trials against Egyptian civilians.
Two weeks ago, a Suez military court dealt a life sentence to a Muslim Brotherhood member for violence against the army. The verdict was handed down over the 14 August attacks, committed by supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, which targeted the armed forces, churches and civilians in the canal city of Suez.
Fifty other defendants were given sentences between five to fifteen years in prison, while twelve were acquitted of the same charges. All detainees were accused of attacking military personnel with rocks and Molotov cocktails.