Egypt’s parliament voted on Sunday to stop the head of state sending civilians for military trials, but rights campaigners said little would change immediately because the move would only apply to a civilian president and not the generals now ruling the country.
Pressure group No to Military Trials, created after a popular uprising ousted President Hosni Mubarak last year, says the army has carried out at least 12,000 trials of civilians, many of them arrested during pro-democracy protests.
Leaders of the street movement that toppled Mubarak say the legacy of his autocratic rule lives on in the trials, which take place behind closed doors, with sentences often meted out swiftly on defendants lacking proper legal representation.
The army, which is promising to hand power to a new president by July, routinely dismisses accusations that its trials are unfair.
Supporters of the tribunals say they are vital to ensure order and relieve the burden on overstretched civilian courts.
Parliament did not challenge the army’s prerogative to transfer civilians to its own courts but voted to cancel the president’s right to do so – a mechanism used frequently by Mubarak against Islamists, who now dominate parliament.
“The parliament led by Islamists seem to only notice what has happened to them, and not to the thousands of civilians standing military trial or sent to military jails,” said Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch.
The assembly ordered that civilians sent by the former president to military courts be given the right to a retrial before a civilian court within 60 days of the law being passed.
The law must be approved by the military rulers before it can take effect.