Administrative Court acquits MB leaders; argues military tribunals are ‘unconstitutional’

In a landmark court decision, the Egyptian State Administrative Court ruled on Tuesday in favor of 33 high-ranking members of the Muslim Brotherhood delivering a verdict in which it acquitted the Brotherhood officials of all charges and stated that ‘the referral of civilians to military tribunals is unconstitutional’.
The verdict is a “victory to the Brotherhoods and gives hope for better trial conditions for its members in the future,” Abdel Moniem Abdel Maqsoud, defense lawyer in the case told The Daily Star Egypt.

“I really hope this verdict gets implemented. The Egyptian judiciary system must immediately stop referring civilians-whether members of the Brotherhood or not- to martial courts,” Maqsoud added.

Since their arrest and freezing of their financial assets in late 2006, the detainees have been acquitted by civilian courts twice.

While the official charges against the defendants have not been made public, the Brotherhood’s Ibrahim El-Houdaiby argues that charges involved money laundering, terrorism, and ‘attempts to revive the ideas of an outlawed organization’.

“The accusations were equally ridiculous as the arrest decision. This trial has been politically motivated inside and out,” El-Houdaiby to The Daily Star Egypt.

Mohamed Khalil Kwaitah, member of the National Democratic Party, told The Daily Star Egypt that while he wasn’t familiar with the updates in the case, he stressed that ‘the judiciary system in Egypt including the martial and civilians courts always grantee fair trials’.

However, Ibrahim El Darwish, Professor in Constitutional Law at Cairo University, countered by arguing that ‘we are living in a system of exceptional law that aims to control everyone in this country.’

‘It is an unconstitutional practice to send civilians to military tribunals, but I think we will see more of it in the future. Anyone can be sent to military tribunal in this country-even you,” El-Darwish told The Daily Star Egypt.

New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch welcomed Tuesday’s verdict arguing it is an ‘encouraging’ development.

“This court decision is very encouraging. The detainees should be released immediately. We call on the government to respect criminal court rulings, and to respect the decisions of the administrative court. At this point, there can no longer be any doubt that the continued detention of Khairat El Shatter and the other detainees is illegal,” Elijah Zarwan, Middle East Researcher at HRW, told The Daily Star Egypt.

However, while today’s verdict marks ‘a great decision’, as Islam Lotfy, defense lawyer of detained MB blogger and journalist Abdel Moneim Mamhmoud, puts it, he is still skeptical to whether the verdict will be implemented in reality.

“The government plays a lot of dirty games these days. I bet they will come up with a legal trick that will allow them to transfer these Brotherhood members to military court. The authorities will definitely try to make another case out of this,” Lotfy said in an interview with The Daily Star Egypt.

El-Houdaiby also raised worries regarding the actual implementation of the verdict.

“Right now, we are just happy about the verdict. However, everyone obviously wonders whether our members will actually be freed or not. They have been acquitted twice before, but didn’t walk then. We can just hope for the best,” El-Houdaiby said.

The Egyptian authorities have received heavy criticism by rights groups for its transfer of civilians to military tribunals.