Egypt: Alleged Muslim Brothers referred to military court in connection with opposition to war in Afghanistan

The 22 men, including doctors, university lecturers and engineers, were detained earlier this month in connection with their alleged affiliation with the banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation.

'If, as we believe, the detainees are being held solely on the grounds of their alleged affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood - an organisation that neither advocates nor condones violence - we consider them to be prisoners of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release,' Amnesty International said.

On 14 November 2001 semi-official Egyptian daily al-Gumhuriya reported that charges against the men include 'preparing to incite the public against the [political] system [in Egypt] and to protest against the war in Afghanistan...'.

'Freedom of expression and association continue to be seriously curtailed in Egypt. Everyone should have the right to express peacefully their views without the threat of arrest and detention,' said Amnesty International.

Amongst the 22 detainees is Hussein al-Darrag who stood as candidate in the parliamentary election in October/November 2000 in the Shubra al-Khaima district of Cairo. Excessive use of force then by the security forces resulted in civilians being killed and injured at demonstrations against restricted access to the polling stations. Victims of ill-treatment in the Shubra al-Khaima district, where killings were also reported around the time of the elections, were met by an Amnesty International delegate, who was himself attacked in front of a polling station in the district.

Several of the men have also been detained in the past on similar charges. Muhi al-Dhayat, a dermatologist at Ain Shams University in Cairo, was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience when, amongst 60 others, he was sentenced and imprisoned by the Supreme Military Court for alleged affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood following unfair trials in 1995 and 1996. Others were detained for several months on similar charges and later released without trial.

Large numbers of alleged Muslim Brothers have been arrested and detained in recent years, in the run-up to elections of both legislative bodies and those of professional associations. Prior to the parliamentary elections in 2000, hundreds of opposition candidates and their supporters, predominantly alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood, were arrested and detained.

In April and May 2001 scores of alleged Muslim Brothers were detained in connection with their non-violent activities in the run-up to the elections to the Shura Council, Egypt's Upper House. They include Muhammad Habib and 35 others, whose detention since May 2001 even contravenes the six month period of 'preventive detention', allowed under the Egyptian Criminal Procedure Code.

More than one hundred alleged Muslim Brotherhood have been tried before military courts in 1995, 1996 and 1999-2000, in conditions which fall short of international standards for fair trial. Fifteen alleged members of the Muslim Brothers organisation were sentenced to between three and five years' imprisonment on charges of affiliation with an illegal organization. Amnesty International has adopted the men as prisoners of conscience calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

BACKGROUND

Trials before military courts violate fundamental requirements of international law and standards for fair trial, as recognised by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a State Party. This includes the right to be tried before a competent, independent and impartial court established by law and the right to appeal to a higher court. Egypt's civilian judges are appointed for life by a supreme judicial council. Military judges, on the other hand, are serving military officers appointed by the Minister of Defence for a two-year term, which can be renewed for additional two-year terms at the discretion of the Minister of Defence. In addition, a political official, namely the President, is charged with deciding under which court's jurisdiction certain cases fall. The appointment of military judges and the referral of cases to courts by the executive branch of the government creates a strong link between military courts and the executive which does not provide sufficient guarantees of independence and casts doubts on their impartiality.

Article 14 (5) of the ICCPR states: 'Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to the law'. However, those convicted by military courts have no right to appeal to a higher court. All sentences passed by military courts are subject only to review by the Military Appeals' Bureau, a body composed of military judges, which is not a court, and to ratification by the President.

In July 1993 the UN Human Rights Committee reviewed Egypt's implementation of the ICCPR and expressed deep concern about military courts trying civilians, concluding that 'military courts should not have the faculty to try cases which do not refer to offences committed by members of the armed forces in the course of their duties' (Comments of the Human Rights Committee, 48th session, - CCPR/C/79/Add.23, pg. 3, para.9). Egypt has not reported to the Human Rights Committee since that time.

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