Egypt: Military court adjourns workers trial

An Egyptian Military Court has postponed the trial of eight workers of the Helwan Engineering Industries Company to next Wednesday, 1 September 2010. The adjournment came in response to the peaceful demands made by the defense.

This was the first hearing in workers' trial, which took place on Sunday 22 August 2010 at Egypt's Military Tribunal - one of Egypt's ‘special courts', frequently used by the Egyptian government to suppress activists and opponents.

The following eight individuals from the Helwan Engineering Industries Company are on trial:

- Mohamed Tarek Sayed
- Hisham Farouk Eid
- Tarek Sayed Mahmoud
- Ayman Taher
- Ahmed Taher
- Wael Mohamed Bayoumi
- Ahmed Mohamed Abdelmaheemin
- Ali Nabil Ali

They are accused of :
1. Destroying 162,000LE (Egyptian Pounds equal to approximately 20,900EUR) worth of company property
2. Deliberately refraining from work, which led to damages estimated at 1,300,000LE (167,445EUR)
3. Beating Major General Mohamed Amin, who was injured according to medical reports

Tarek Sayed Mahmoud, in addition to the above mentioned charges, was charged with divulging military secrets to the Ikhwan Online website (the Muslim Brotherhood's website) and informing them of the security measures of the company's plant.

The court denied the defense's request to obtain a copy of the adjournment decision, claiming that it was a ‘classified' military document.

The case comes after the company's management put approximately 25 workers under investigation with National Organisation for Military Production. The company later decided to prosecute the eight above-mentioned workers before a Military Court.

Their case comes following a workers' protest, in early August 2010, during which a worker was killed as a result of an explosion of a nitrogen cylinder. They were initially jailed for four days pending investigation - and then it was decided that they would remain in custody.

Their detention was extended until 21 August 2010, but eventually a decision was made for the trial to be referred to the military courts.

Alkarama condemns that fact that the workers were referred to a military court, which regretfully does not meet the standards of a "fair" trial. The International Labor Organisation (ILO) has placed the Egypt government amongst world's 25 worst regimes in terms of violations of workers' rights.

It is worth nothing that the labor laws in military factories are governed by the Labor Code and Regulations of military factories, which regulates the workers' rights, and should they be prosecuted, they are referred to an ordinary court, not a military tribunal. Under these laws, workers are considered civilians and not military personnel, despite the fact that they work in the production of military armaments.

Several international conventions, to which Egypt is party, oblige the establishment of trade unions and police. Therefore, military production falls under the civil law, labor law and trade union law - workers are granted the right to establish the necessary committees for a trade union. They are thus able to establish a General Trade Union of Workers for military production, within the framework of Egypt's General Federation of Non-Military Trade Unions.

Alkarama calls on the Egyptian government to reviews its decision to arbitrarily detain the eight workers and putting them on trial. The referral of civilians to military trials has long since been a method used by the Egyptian government to silence political opponents such as Khairat Al-Shatter and journalists such as Hassan Magdy Hussein. As victims of military tribunals, they are denied the basic rights of a fair trial.

Current fears are that the eight workers risk being exposed to physical or psychological abuse. The Egyptian authorities are known to use torture methods to extract false confessions. The confessions could subsequently be used against the detainees in the military tribunal to convict them to heavy sentences.