Five students arrested in Egypt in January will be charged with rioting and tried in a military court, officials said during the weekend. The students were transferred from a criminal court in Cairo to a military court Sunday because of a controversial new law that allows civilians who damage state property to face military justice, according to Reuters.
The students were accused of rioting, arson and being associated with a terrorist organization after they reportedly set fire to part of the engineering department at the al-Azhar University in Cairo, the historic center of higher Islamic learning in Egypt and one of the oldest universities for Islam in the world. The incident took place last December, Agence France-Presse reported. The students were said to be loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood, officially designated as a terrorist group by the state late last year.
Last month, Egypt began allowing military courts to try civilians who damage state facilities, Reuters reported. The decision came after several recent assaults on security forces not seen since President Mohammed Morsi was ousted last year. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who assumed office in June after running in the 2014 presidential election as an independent, approved the measure.
Some have criticized the government’s decision to try civilians in a military court, especially when the law is applied to crimes committed before the law was passed in October.
Since Sisi gained power in 2013 after having played a lead role in the ouster of Morsi, the government has jailed thousands of Brotherhood supporters, Reuters previously reported. The ongoing state crackdown that began last year saw 68 Muslim Brotherhood loyalists sentenced to jail time in September. They were found guilty of killing 30 people in Cairo last year during deadly clashes with Morsi's opponents. The state has also jailed activists who led the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.