Military court acquits 3 workers, suspends sentences of others
August 30, 2010
A military court ruled three workers of the Helwan for Engineering Industries innocent and suspended sentences from six month to one year against another five.
The workers were accused of vandalizing factory properties worth of LE162,000, deliberately stopping production, resulting in LE1,300,000 of losses, assaulting the factory chairman, and contacting the Muslim Brotherhood's official website with "secret information."
The case was stirred by an explosion in the factory in late July, which prompted workers to complain to the chairman about safety standards, to no avail. Two weeks later, another hydrogen cylinder explosion killed a worker, which raised his colleagues to action.
The trial was considered contentious since it is the first military trial to be held against workers on allegations pertaining to their protest since 1952. In 1952, two workers were sentenced to death after being accused of plotting to topple the revolution.
In his defense of the workers, Khaled Ali, head of the Egyptian Center for Social, Economic and Cultural Rights said that three main arguments were used.
“We spoke about the non-constitutionality of the military court law, whose amendment was directly sent to the People's Assembly for approval before going through the Shura Council,” he said.
A legal amendment in June exposes any worker employed by the military industries sector to military tribunals if accused of any charges from the penal code. The amendment included trying civilians who commit crimes in border areas in military tribunals. Human rights advocates reproach that such measures increase the trying of civilians by military courts.
“We also reminded the court that strikes are no longer criminalized by the law, after Egypt’s ratification of the Convention of Social and Economic Rights and in light of the precedent set by the dropping of charges by supreme state security courts,” said Ali. In 1986, major charges held by a supreme state security court against railway workers were dropped.
Ali added that the workers had no intention or knowledge of revealing classified information about a military establishment.
“Those are soft rulings that put into consideration a lot of political issues, such as the upcoming elections and the fact that the minister (of military production Sayed Meshaal) is running,” said Kamal Abbas, executive director of the Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services.
Lawyers also demanded from the court to address allegations to the factory chairman Mohamed Amin for the manslaughter of Ahmad Abdel Hadi, the worker who died following the gas cylinder explosion.
“The case went well in the end although we were really frightened. But the real problem is with this legal amendment,” Abbas added, reminding that workers of military production industries have always been subject to civilian courts.
In 2000, the workers of the factory were also brought to a military prosecutor following protests against poor safety standards. But the prosecution did not escalate the case to a military tribunal.
Military tribunals are exceptional courts, the verdicts of which can only be appealed through high military appeals courts. Only President Hosni Mubarak can overturn rulings handed down by military appeal courts.