[JURIST] An Egyptian court on Monday referred five students from Al-Azhar University [academic website, in Arabic] to a military trial over a violent protest in January when part of a campus building was torched. The referral took place under a controversial new law [HRW report] passed last month, which expands the army’s powers to try civilians, placing all “public and vital facilities” under military jurisdiction. The Cairo criminal court announced that it lacked jurisdiction to rule in the case and referred the students to military court. Although hundreds of students have been tried in civilian courts for protests and violence on campus, state-owned institutions now fall under the category of public and vital facilities.
The justice system in Egypt has been strongly criticized. Earlier this month the US and UK voiced concern [JURIST report] over the violent crackdown on dissent by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi‘s [BBC profile] government, calling on his administration to free political prisoners and ensure the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association are respected. In October an Egyptian court ordered the detention [JURIST report] of Alaa Abdel-Fattah [Twitter feed, in Arabic], one of Egypt’s most prominent pro-democracy activists, at the start of his retrial for breaking a law on demonstrations. In the same month an Egyptian court sentenced 23 activists [JURIST report] to three years in prison for protesting without a permit, an act that violates a law enacted [JURIST report] in November 2013.