As of December 29, 2014, 23 students – 15 from Zagazig University and eight from Al-Azhar University – reportedly face military prosecution in connection with their participation in on-campus protests, after their cases were transferred out of the jurisdiction of the civilian criminal courts.
On December 3, 2014, following a protest, three Al-Azhar students were taken into custody and reportedly detained and subject to 15 days of interrogation, before being charged with violating Egypt’s protest law, obstructing roads and engaging in violent activity. The cases of five other Al-Azhar students were referred to a military tribunal in November, after the students were reportedly accused of torching a university office.
The Zagazig University students had reportedly been involved in a separate protest on December 28, in which demonstrators allegedly marched in front of a university hospital and police building, blocked a road and launched fireworks. They were charged with rioting, inciting violence, intimidating citizens, and protesting without permission, as well as injuring four police officers in the course of the protest. The case was referred to a military court the next day.
The referrals follow an October 2014 decree, Law 136 of 2014, in which Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, placed all “public and vital facilities” under the jurisdiction of the military, thus requiring that any crimes alleged to have been committed at such venues to be referred to military courts. Egyptian military courts are presided over by military officers – not civilian judicial officials – and normally are not subject to the same requirements with respect to due process and independence as civilian courts. Since the decree, more than 700 other civilians have reportedly been referred to military prosecutors.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention and military prosecution of students in apparent retaliation for nonviolent expression and association – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State officials have a responsibility not to interfere with students’ rights to freedom of expression and association, so long as such rights are exercised peacefully and responsibly. Imprisonment and prosecution aimed at limiting expression and association undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally. State officials have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of due process, fair trial, free expression and freedom of association.