Human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called on Egyptian military authorities for the immediate release of a peaceful pro-democracy demonstrator tried and convicted in a military court.
The organizations also charged that military courts should not be used to prosecute civilians.
The military should "halt detentions of peaceful demonstrators and end violence by soldiers against protesters and detainees," one of the organizations, Human Rights Watch (HRW), said yesterday.
"Egyptian military authorities are continuing one of the worst practices of the Hosni Mubarak government by prosecuting civilians in military tribunals," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Authorities have no business arresting people merely for participating in a peaceful demonstration in the first place."
In one recent case, on February 26, soldiers arrested at least nine people during demonstrations in and near Tahrir Square, in central Cairo. The Defense Ministry, in a March 1 news release, announced that it was investigating them for having "sneaked in among the youth," protesting in the square and "causing unrest."
In fact, on that day, a military court had convicted one of them, Amr Abdallah al-Bahari, 32, for assaulting a soldier and breaking curfew, his lawyer, Adel Ramadan, told HRW. Soldiers physically abused al-Bahari when they arrested him on February 26, a witness said.
Al-Bahari's brother, Mohammed, told HRW that soldiers arrested al-Bahari after midnight February 26 when the army raided Tahrir Square and a nearby street in front of parliament to clear the area of demonstrators. The brother said that the soldiers held al-Bahari incommunicado and refused him access to lawyers. Ramadan discovered al-Bahari's conviction while inspecting records at a military courthouse in the Nasr City district of Cairo on March 2.
In another case, Amnesty said it has received information on Maaty Ahmed Hamed Abu Arab who was arrested on February 3 in Tahrir Square while on his way to buy food. He was sentenced to five years in prison by a military court for breaking curfew and possession of a weapon. He, along with many others, is now held in Al Wadi Al Gadid prison, in the remote western desert.