An Egyptian journalist facing an unfair military trial over his coverage
of events in Sinai must be immediately and unconditionally released,
said Amnesty International ahead of a hearing in his case on Sunday.
organization believes that Ahmed Abu Deraa, 38, an award-winning
journalist, and father of two, is being prosecuted for challenging the
army’s version of its operations in the restive North Sinai region.
authorities’ decision to try a journalist and a civilian in a military
court is a serious blow to press freedom and human rights in Egypt,”
said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for
the Middle East and North Africa. “Egyptian military trials are
notoriously unfair and in any event, trying civilians in military courts
flouts international standards.”
Ahmed Abu Deraa, a
correspondent for Al-Masry al-Youm, an Egyptian daily newspaper, is
accused of publishing false information and trespassing on a military
zone without a permit. He was arrested on 4 September at a coastal
border guard base after he went there to inquire about an injured
relative arrested in early September following a military operation in
the village of Muqat’a.
Ahmed Abu Deraa is one of the few
independent voices reporting from North Sinai, an area which has been
plagued by security threats and instability. The armed forces have
conducted several military operations since July 2013 against what the
authorities describe as militant groups active in the region.
a press conference on 15 September, the military spokesperson
maintained that the armed forces respect media freedom. He argued that
Abu Deraa had made false claims that the armed forces destroyed mosques,
evicted residents and targeted women and children during military
Since the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi on 3
July, army checkpoints, security personnel and government buildings have
come under increased attack by militants. In one of the bloodiest
incidents, on 19 August, 25 conscripts with the Central Security Forces
were ambushed on the road and killed by armed militants.
before his arrest, Ahmed Abu Deraa posted a message on Facebook
reporting that the Egyptian army had bombed the villages of Muqat’a and
Touma in Sheikh Zaid in North Sinai. Six homes and a mosque were damaged
in the attack, he said. He also reported that the military arrested an
injured resident. In an earlier post, he explicitly questioned the
army’s and media’s version of events in North Sinai.
“The charges against Ahmed Abu Deraa should be dropped, and he should be immediately released,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.
reporters for doing their job under the pretext of fighting terrorism
is a breach of Egypt’s international obligations and undermines the
right of Egyptians to receive information. Journalists must be able to
carry out their professional duties without fear of being targeted by
the authorities or facing arbitrary restrictions on their work. The
Egyptian authorities’ and armed forces’ respect for freedom of
expression will be judged by their actions, not their rhetoric.”
Abu Deraa faces charges of spreading false information which endangers
“national security” and “weakens fiscal confidence in the country” and
its “prestige”. He also faces a separate charge for entering a
prohibited military zone without a permit. If convicted, he could face
five years in prison.
Under the Code of Military Justice,
military courts deal with crimes committed in military bases or other
locations occupied by soldiers.
Earlier this week, Egypt’s
Foreign Minister, Nabil Fahmy, assured his US counterpart, John Kerry,
that civilians will not face military trials in Egypt.
Sabry, another independent, Sinai-based journalist, is also facing
military trial after his arrest on 4 January. He is charged with
trespassing and filming in a prohibited place without authorization.
3 July there has been a worrying increase in military trials of
civilians, particularly in Suez. A number of alleged supporters of the
deposed president Mohamed Morsi were convicted after unfair trials by
military courts in Suez. For instance, on 3 September, the Suez Military
Court convicted 47 civilians to prison terms ranging from five years to
life for committing violent acts, while over a dozen other civilians
were acquitted. Their lawyers complained about facing obstacles in
getting access to their clients.
Other recent military trials
are not linked to the political turmoil. For example, on 24 July, two
men, Ramadan Ahmed Ismail Mahfouz, 32, originally from Fayoum, and
Mohamed Amin Mohamed, originally from Aswan, were sentenced to one year
imprisonment terms for insulting and punching a soldier by the Suez
Military Court. The charges are based on an altercation with the soldier
at a checkpoint.
More than 12,000 civilians were tried unfairly
by military courts during the 17-month rule of the army from February
Amnesty International opposes the trials of
civilians by military courts, which in Egypt are fundamentally unfair
and breach a number of fair trial safeguards, including the right to a
fair and public hearing before a competent, independent and impartial
tribunal established by law.
Egypt is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which enshrines the right to a fair trial.
suspended 2012 Constitution, as well as the July 2013 Constitutional
Declaration, allow for the trial of civilians by military courts. The
campaign group No to Military Trials and other Egyptians NGOs and
activists are urging the 50 member committee currently revising the
Constitution to explicitly prohibit the trial of civilians by military
courts in all circumstances.