While members of the special committee convened by President Mohamed Morsy to review the cases of civilians facing military trials hinted at good news, activists were sceptical the committee would offer the civilians charged a complete pardon.
Dr. Amin Al-Mahdi, head of the committee, announced in the committee’s first press conference on Saturday that it has “good news for the families of those militarily detained.” Al-Mahdi promised that the news would be released during early Ramadan.
However, Interim Presidential Spokesperson, Yasser Aly, told Al-Jazeera Mubasher, “the presidency has not taken the decision to release civilians tried by the military.”
The No Military Trials campaign was sceptical about the announcement, since the committee was using outdated figures for those currently awaiting trial and being sentenced to appear before military courts.
“For starters, the committee is trading numbers which have been released in September 2011,” said Shahira Abouellail, one of the co-founders of the No Military Trials movement. “Since then, multiple civilians have been militarily detained during several occasions. Thus, the list needs to be updated with the actual number of those undergoing military detention; a list which they can easily get from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces.”
The press conference was held at the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), which is itself a controversial body, once headed by former Secretary General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros Ghali, which has frequently released statements about the right to peaceful protest, but its outspoken solidarity with military detainees has almost always stopped at statements.
“The press conference was mainly aimed at outlining the specialisations and jurisdictions of the committee, as well as letting the public in on the committee’s mechanisms of action” said Ahmad Fathy, head of the NCHR media centre.
“Dr. Al-Mahdi also announced the committee’s coordination with NCHR, due to the council’s experience in dealing with complaints.”
According to Fathy, the NCHR has a wide array of experienced researchers, fully capable of dealing with peoples’ complaints and willing to offer their assistance to the committee.
Fathy added that the NCHR has always advocated for civilians’ right to be tried in front of civilian courts and were solidly against any exceptional treatment of civilians, be it military trials or anything else.
The No Military Trials movement has several reservations regarding the committee.
Abouellail also added another issue No Military Trials has with the committee in question, namely that they are entitled to deal with any prisoners detained before and up to June 30, while several civilians are facing military trials and detentions till this very day.
In regards to the promise of “good news”, Abouellail said that the movement is well aware that a large chunk of military detainees shall be out soon, but that this is not the movement’s main concern.
“The solution is much simpler than that,” Abouellail said. “It doesn’t even need a special committee. They could’ve easily come to us and we would have supplied them with all the necessary documentations and lists.”
President Morsy established the committee five days after his inauguration, a sort-of answer to persistent requests for the release of civilians tried in military courts.
The committee, which includes legal experts from the Ministry of Interior, the military judiciary and revolutionary representatives, was mainly established to review cases of people detained in militarily facilities and tried from January 25th, 2011 till June 30th, 2012.
“It can all be solved by a simple presidential decision,” Abouellail concluded. “The president has the authority to release all those detainees.”