Egypt refers five students to military court over protest

Relatives of detained activists cry and pray for them as the activists stand trial at a court in Cairo.

Relatives of detained activists cry and pray for them as the activists stand trial at a court in Cairo.

An Egyptian court referred five university students on Monday to military trial over a violent protest, judicial sources said, under a controversial new law expanding the army’s powers to try civilians.

The students from Cairo’s Islamic Al-Azhar University were sent for trial after a protest in January during which part of a campus building was torched.

Hundreds of students have been tried in civilian courts after violence on campuses, bastions of pro-Islamist activists following the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year.

Under a law passed last month, state-owned institutions are now regarded as military facilities and attacking them as a crime against the armed forces.

The military already had the right to try civilians accused of attacking its personnel, but the new decree grants the army far broader jurisdiction.

The law was issued after a militant attack killed at least 30 soldiers in the Sinai, and after months of violent protests against Morsi’s overthrow.

The new legislation also puts the military in charge of guarding vital installations including major thoroughfares and bridges.

Rights groups have condemned the law, and say military tribunals often result in swift and harsh sentences.

“This law represents another nail in the coffin of justice in Egypt,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“Its absurdly broad provisions mean that many more civilians who engage in protests can now expect to face trial before uniformed judges subject to the orders of their military superiors.”

The government has said the decree was aimed at militants, not protesters who have already been targeted by a ban on all but police-sanctioned demonstrations.

In a separate case on Monday, a military court in the city of Suez sentenced 17 Islamists to up to seven years in jail for inciting violence and attacking soldiers and military vehicles on August 14, 2013, hours after police stormed two sit-ins of pro-Morsi protesters in Cairo.

One defendant was acquitted, an army source said.

Hundreds of demonstrators were killed when security forces stormed the two Cairo sit-ins.

 
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