Activists, opposition groups protest military trial of workers

CAIRO: A military court on Wednesday adjourned the trial of eight workers to Aug. 28, while about 20 activists from different opposition groups and movements protested outside the High Court of Justice in downtown Cairo against trying the workers in a military court.

On Aug. 3, eight Helwan Engineering Industries Company workers were arrested for leading a sit-in to object to an accident where a nitrogen tube went off inside the factory, also known as Military Factory 99, killing one colleague and injuring many others.

The workers were accused of refraining from work and assaulting a public official, the chairman of the board.

“Another worker was charged with unveiling military secrets after he attempted to contact the media to expose the situation since they work for an army factory,” Adel Zakaria, spokesman for the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), previously told Daily News Egypt.

On Aug. 14, the military prosecution ordered them to be held in custody pending investigation. Afterwards, they were held on remand for four more days.

However, the workers were suddenly referred to the military court three days later.

The factory chairman was reportedly sacked after the incident.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the court referred the worker accused of exposing military secrets to the military operations room to investigate into whether what he said was confidential or not.

In addition to other charges, the other seven defendants were also accused of causing damages to parts of the factory building in an angry response to the explosion accident.

A defense team member called on the court to transfer one of the workers to the hospital for having a heart attack. The court said that this decision has to do with the custody authority.

Another lawyer called for the release of the eight workers based on the fact that they are civilians and do not fall under military laws.

In their testimonies, the witnesses did not identify the eights workers as the ones who carried out that above acts.

According to Zakaria, the first hearing held Sunday lasted for only 10 minutes and the defense team of the workers was denied the right to receive a photocopy of the investigations report in order to review the case.

Though there has been a media blackout about the incident and the trial, several opposition groups including the Center for Socialist Studies, the Egyptian Kefaya Movement for Change and April 6 Youth Movement were well aware of the incident.

“We have our way of reaching such information. Nothing remains secret,” one protester told Daily News Egypt.

Protesters chanted the national anthem and shouted slogans against the government, the Minister of State for Military Production Sayed Meshal and President Hosni Mubarak.

“Down with military rulership,” some protesters shouted.

A number of protesters carried signs on which they wrote: “No for referring workers to the military court.”

“These workers did nothing but expressing their rage towards the death of their colleague and the unsafe conditions they have been surviving. So they cannot by any means be judged by a military court,” journalists and activist Mohamed Abdel-Qodous noted.

“Though being an army affiliate, the facility manufactures home appliances not warplanes as many heard,” Abdel-Qodous, also the head of the Committee for Protecting Opinion Prisoners, added.

Reporters were denied entry into the courtroom.

Any sentence by a military court cannot be appealed.

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