Exclusive: Egypt Military Officers Convicted Of Muslim Brotherhood Coup

A military court has convicted 26 military officers with conspiring to overthrow the current regime in collaboration with two prominent Muslim Brotherhood leaders, according to a copy of the secret indictment obtained by Mada Masr.

Egyptian President al-Sisi among military officers in Cairo in May
Egyptian President al-Sisi among military officers in Cairo in May
Hossam Bahgat*

CAIRO â€" The defendants faced a number of major charges, including attempting a military coup, terrorism and joining the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as attempting to forcibly occupy public institutions.

In the absence of any official or published information about the investigations, it is not possible to confirm or deny the accuracy of the charges leveled against the defendants. The confirmation or the denial of the charges is also made impossible given the refusal of lawyers to comment on the evidence presented by the military prosecution and Military Intelligence against their clients, in the hope that the sentences may later be reduced.

Relatives of the defendants say that those who were tried in absentia received sentences of life imprisonment. Of those that were present in court, four defendants also received a life sentence, with 10 receiving 15 years imprisonment and the remaining seven sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Mada Masr has conducted interviews with relatives of several defendants about the conditions in which their relatives were arrested and their treatment in detention (they spoke on condition of anonymity and nondisclosure of the nature of their relation to the defendants). Together with the indictment sheet, Mada Masr has uncovered some of the case details, which have received no media attention, save for some Brotherhood-affiliated news outlets and a short BBC Arabic story citing “military sources” on Aug. 16, 2015, the day the verdict was issued.

Generals and colonels

The Armed Forces spokesperson could not be reached by for comment on the issue, despite repeated attempts. Neither the Ministry of Defense nor its Military Justice Authority has issued any statements regarding the case.

According to the indictment order in case number 3/2015 by the military public prosecutor, four of the defendants were retired officers who were sentenced in absentia, given that they fled the country. One of them was a colonel. The remaining 22 defendants included two retired army officers, one of them a brigadier general, and 20 who were still serving in the Armed Forces at the time of arrest, including a brigadier general and two colonels.

One of the defendants was Major Momen Mohamed Saeed Abdel Aty, brother of General Ragai Saeed, former deputy commander of the Central Military Zone. Abdel Aty’s name first appeared in the summer of 2013, when he was in charge of securing the Mohandiseen neighborhood west of Cairo. He appeared in a YouTube video reprimanding the police for firing tear gas at a demonstration supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi on Aug. 30, 2013. Sources told Mada Masr that Sad had retired a few weeks after officers accused in the case were arrested, though that information could not be independently verified.

In addition to the 26 officers, the indictment order included two Muslim Brotherhood leaders who received life sentences in absentia.

According to the" families of the military officers, all of the accused were summoned or arrested in April 2015. The relatives who agreed to speak to Mada Masr deny the charges made against the defendants, as well as any relationship to the Brotherhood.

Reading the Koran

Some did confirm that the defendants were religious and conservative, and that some of their behavior might have attracted attention, such as regularly reading the Koran or leading prayers among their colleagues.

Some go further in their attempts to explain the case. One relative says that the case progressed a few days after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's appointment of a new director for Military Intelligence on April 1, 2015, and that perhaps the new director was trying to prove his efficiency. A relative of another defendant says, "There is mayhem in Sinai and they needed to make a show of force in Cairo. These officers were the scapegoats."

The indictment order to try these 28 individuals before a military court states that, since January 2011, the defendants have conspired to "attempt a forceful coup, change the constitution of the state, its republican order and the system of government." According to the document, they were also charged with "forceful attempt to occupy some public institutions … which include the headquarters of the general secretariat of the Ministry of Defense and its main headquarters, the Military Intelligence, the Egyptian Television and Radio Union, the Egyptian Media Production City, the Ministry of Interior’s National Security Agency and the Central Bank of Egypt."

The penalty for both crimes is life imprisonment.

All defendants also faced charges of terrorism and joining "the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group, while aware of its objectives of calling for obstructing the implementation of the provisions of the Constitution and law, preventing state institutions and public authorities from carrying out their responsibilities, and damaging national unity and social peace." The Penal Code stipulates a harsher punishment for both charges if the "perpetrator is a member of the Armed Forces."

As noted above, it is not possible to confirm the validity of these charges.

Relatives obtained a list of the verdicts in the case. They say that the military court sentenced all of the defendants in absentia to life imprisonment. Another four defendants who attended the court proceedings were also sentenced to life in prison, including Brigadier General Yassin Abdel Hamid Mohamed and retired Brigadier General Osama Sayed Ahmed Ali, the highest ranks among the defendants. Ten defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison, while seven defendants were sentenced to 10 years.

Relatives say that the reasoning of the verdict issued on Aug. 16 has been written but the sentence has not yet been ratified. Military law stipulates that sentences are not considered final before their ratification by the minister of defense or his representative, who has the authority to uphold, reduce or overturn the sentence and order a retrial.

The families gathered and went to the Ministry of Defense to seek amnesty for their relatives in September. Two weeks ago, they went to the Presidential Palace and requested that the verdicts be reconsidered. Even if the conviction is ratified, families remain hopeful about their final appeal before the military Court of cassation.

*Translated from Arabic by Aida Seif al-Dawla.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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