An Egyptian court referred five university students Monday to military trial over a violent protest, judicial sources said, under a controversial new law expanding the army’s powers to try civilians.
The students from Cairo’s Islamic Al-Azhar University were sent for trial after a protest in January during which part of a campus building was torched.
Hundreds of students have been tried in civilian courts after violence on campuses, bastions of pro-Islamist activists following the army’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi last year.
Now, under the new law passed last month, state-owned institutions are regarded as military facilities and attacking them is a crime against the armed forces.
The Egyptian military already had the right to try civilians accused of attacking its personnel, but the new decree broadens the army’s jurisdiction considerably.
The law was issued after a militant attack killed at least 30 soldiers in the Sinai, and after months of violent protests against Morsi’s overthrow.
The new legislation also said that the military would also help guard vital installations including major thoroughfares and bridges.
Rights groups have condemned the law, and say military tribunals often result in swift and harsh sentences.
“This law represents another nail in the coffin of justice in Egypt,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East and North Africa director for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“Its absurdly broad provisions mean that many more civilians who engage in protests can now expect to face trial before uniformed judges subject to the orders of their military superiors.”
The government has said the decree was aimed at militants, not protesters who have already been targeted by another law that bans all but police-sanctioned demonstrations.