Egypt must not try factory workers before a military court

Egypt must not try factory workers before a military court

Amnesty international has condemned the trial before an Egyptian military court of eight factory workers, all civilians, detained after taking part in a protest against poor safety conditions at the factory, following an explosion which killed one of their fellow workers. 

The trial of the eight workers from Helwan Factory for Engineering Industries (Military Factory No. 99) resumes at the military court in Nasr City, in the east of Cairo on Saturday.

It is the first such trial since the authorities amended the Military Justice Code in June to allow workers in a military factory to be tried before a military court for “stopping work in utilities of public interest" and "assault on freedom to work”, preventing others from working.

"Trials of civilians before military courts, whose judges are serving members of the military, flout international standards of fair trial and are inherently unjust," said Amnesty International.

“Thousands of protests, strikes and sit-ins have been staged by Egyptian workers in both the public and private sectors, protesting the rising cost of living and demanding better wages and working conditions. This latest referral before military courts of workers is therefore a disturbing step.”

“These men should be tried by a civilian court for recognizable criminal offences, in line with international standards for fair trial or else they should be released.”

Seven of the men have been charged with deliberately stopping production, destroying factory property and assaulting a public official.

The eighth man is charged with "disclosing military secrets" and "contacting the media with information on the factory’s security".

It is feared that the men are being prosecuted because they refused to work and halted production after an explosion killed one of their fellow workers.

Their lawyers told Amnesty International that they all deny the charges against them.

Since the opening of the trial on 22 August, the defence lawyers have not been allowed to obtain a copy of the case files and have only been allowed to read parts of the files because some of the documents are said to contain military secrets.

The demonstration against poor working conditions at the Helwan Factory for Engineering Industries took place on 3 August, after the explosion of a gas canister killed Ahmed Abdel Hadi and injured at least six other workers.

The eight defendants were among a group of 25 workers who were referred to the National Authority for Military Production for investigation on 8 August after promises by the factory’s administration that safety and working conditions would be improved.

The eight, Ahmed Taher Hassan, Ayman Taher Hassan, Ahmed Mohammed Abdel Mohaimen, Mohamed Tarek Sayed, Wael Baioumy Mohamed, Hisham Farouk Eid, Ali Nabil Ali, and Tarek Sayed Mahmoud were brought before the military prosecution, who ordered their detention before referring them to a military court for trial on 21 August.

"Rather than prosecute and try these men for what appears to be legitimate demands for their safety at work, the Egyptian authorities should do their utmost to improve working conditions and safety in the workplace" said Amnesty International.

In line with international law, Amnesty International opposes the trial of civilians by military courts. Such trials violate the right to a fair and public hearing before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law as guaranteed in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Egypt is a state party.

Military courts were established in Egypt under the Code of Military Justice (Law No. 25 of 1966). The Law was amended in April 2007, but the changes did not address the fundamental flaws inherent in trying civilians before military courts.