Away from the headlines about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s motorcade being pelted with tomatoes during her visit to Egypt, along with rising fears of the Muslim Brotherhood's taking all the power in Egypt and tensions between the military and the MB, there are very real people suffering unjustly in Egypt. Last Sunday, Human Rights Watch released a report in which it details the issue of civilians being tried in front of military tribunals. There are still 2,165 civilians that remain in prison after being brought before military courts.
If Egypt's new President Mohammed Morsi is to truly look after interests of the people and protect the independence of nation, as he so ardently claimed in Tahrir before his inauguration, then he should pardon these civilians who have been jailed.
According to Human Rights Watch, there have been over 12,000 civilians who have been tried and over 9,000 convicted in military courts since January 28, 2011. Most of those cases relate to normal criminal activity, or in some cases, clearly fabricated charges. The arrested includes 54 children. Some of the more famous cases include blogger Alaa Abdul Fattah, arrested for 45 days and later released for “incitement,” Asmaa Mahfouz, arrested for “defaming the military” on Facebook, and three activists in the Egyptian Social Democratic party, who were arrested while campaigning against military trials, although they were later released. Additionally, 82 people remain incarcerated for the events in front of the Ministry of Defense in Abbasiya last May. Several hundred of that group started a hunger strike to protest their conditions, and eventually many of that group were later released. Amazingly, the military insists there are no political prisoners among that group.
What’s galling is Morsi’s reaction to the unjust imprisonment of hundreds of Egyptians. Despite the fact that Morsi himself was unjustly imprisoned under Mubarak several times, Morsi has not taken this up as an issue. Instead, he assigned a committee to study the files of civilians that have faced military tribunals since last year. The committee, composed of ten individuals, includes state prosecutors, military prosecutors, the deputy interior minister for the prison authority, and one rights lawyer.
Early leaks suggest that the committee will request the release of 700 of the prisoners, and further, they do not want to release individuals, “who represent a danger to society.” While nobody would disagree with that comment, it must be mentioned that since Mubarak was overthrown, the military has consistently made up charges against civilians after putting them in jail, as they did under Mubarak’s reign. Also of note, even though 840 people died during the revolution, only a handful of police have been arrested or convicted, let alone any from the army. To say the tilt has been heavily against the civilians would be a gross understatement.
Morsi has the full power to grant pardons, as explained in the Human Rights Watch report. And, pardoning the prisoners is politically popular. Over 20 revolutionary groups sent Morsi a letter demanding the pardon of the detainees. Among the leaders in this arena is the group No to Military Trials, whom were profiled recently in the New York Times and detail some clear abuses by the military.
In that speech at Tahrir Square, Morsi commented, “And I see the banners of the families of those who have been jailed by the military," and pledged to work for the release of the prisoners. If Morsi really does represent a break from Egypt’s past, and if truly supports the revolution, he will pardon the prisoners.