Egypt Watch

Committee for Justice: State Security Courts in Egypt are an obstacle to justice

The Committee for Justice human rights platform issued a report in which it said that the modern Egyptian judicial system has used exceptional courts since 1952 and that they have been used to tighten the security grip on opponents. The Supreme State Security Courts were constitutionalised in 1971, being an integral part of the regular judicial system.

The report indicated that even though the State Security Courts are courts conditional on the existence of a state of emergency, successive Egyptian political regimes have exploited the political situation to declare a state of emergency almost permanently.

Thousands have appeared before these courts. Some of them have been executed and some of them have spent their lives in prisons, which led the courts to become synonymous with undermining the independence of the judicial system and oppressing the rights of defendants. The judicial role of the State Security Courts has expanded over the past decades, according to the report, and they have been used to try political activists, journalists, and political opponents.

The report explained that having these types of courts was not necessary from the start; the penal structure contains a sufficient set of laws, such as the Penal Code and the Military Judgment Code. The regular judicial system is also capable of achieving general deterrence, it added. Despite the importance of stopping the referral of cases to the State Security Courts, the report stated, the effect of this recent step is limited for two reasons: First, there are many cases that have already been referred, which means that the rights of the accused and fair trial standards continue to be violated. Second, the Egyptian regime insists on employing exceptional trials and enacting arbitrary laws.

According to the organisation, the recent abolition of the state of emergency does not have a fundamental impact on rights and freedoms in Egypt but is merely a formality. The report considered that the Constitutional Court is the main judicial supporter of Egyptian political regimes, by being slow to adjudicate the constitutionality and legality of anything related to the State Security Courts. Regarding breaches of fair trial guarantees in relation to State Security Courts, the report points to the most important rights that are wasted before these courts: depriving the accused of appearing before his or her natural judge, prohibiting civil prosecution, inadmissibility of appeals against judgments, and retroactive application of court decisions.

The report also listed the testimonies of some lawyers before the State Security Courts stating that judges failed to review the provisions of the law, investigate the charges referred by prosecutions, and review the texts of judgments. It was also noted that the same sentences were being repeated for different defendants, based on reasons and accusations of identical form and meaning, and that they relied on security investigations as a primary source of evidence.